Accounting, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is growing as fast as all other occupations. The laws and regulations that are applied to the business sector keeps accounting positions open and highly competitive among recent graduates. One way many graduates of accounting programs try to stand out is to become a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. Being a CPA gives a person some unique opportunities for career advancement, particular in the government sector.
What Is A CPA?
A CPA is an accountant that is certified by their State Board of Accountancy and passes a series of tests administered by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). According to the BLS, 46 states and Washington, DC, require any CPA candidate to have 150 academic credits in accounting (typically a bachelor’s degree in accounting plus a master’s degree in accounting). Other states may have unique requirements, like being a citizen of that state or having experience in an international program in accounting. Once all academic and pre-professional requirements are met, candidates can take the four-part CPA examination. Once a person passes the CPA exam, they can practice being a CPA. However, to maintain their certification, CPAs must take 120 continuing education credits every three years.
What They Do
Unlike other accountants, CPAs typically work with large corporations or governments in relation to accounting reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and auditing. Under federal law, certain accounting information must be given to the federal government. CPAs representing businesses or working for the government analyze this accounting information to make sure it is accurate and follows regulatory law. CPAs may work directly for businesses or the government, or they may represent these clients through CPA accounting firms.
Types of Government-Associated CPA Work
The government hires CPAs to audit and analyze the effectiveness of government offices. CPAs are needed at the federal, state, and local level to maintain transparency and effective government spending. Frequent audits of the government helps citizens, public administrators, and elected officials know what needs to change in order to make the government run better.
The AIPCA states that there are four main job positions that a CPA can work in at the government-level. One is a performance auditor, who analyzes how the government operates related to day-to-day functions and makes suggestions to increase efficiency. Another job is a government financial auditor, who is a professional who analyzes the quarterly or annual financial activities of government offices and sees if they are within budget. A third job includes a compliance auditor, who makes sure the government organization is following the law or regulation related to financial activity. Finally, there are investigative auditors, who respond to any public or internal allegation of financial misconduct at a government organization.
How Is Government Work Different from Private Sector Work for a CPA
There are not too many differences between a CPA who works in the private sphere and those who work for the government per se. All CPAs must face up to analytical challenges and have a good eye for detail on financial and accounting reports. The private sphere is sometimes considered more fast-paced with many long hours in the day. In contrast, the government sector has more conventional hours and the pace has been classified as slower than the private sphere, according to some analysts.
One could argue that a CPA’s work for the government helps better the work of government and stops public corruption, which benefits all of society. CPA work for the private sphere can help increase efficiency in the private market, but much of the work with private firms does not necessarily directly influence how well social goods are provided to citizens. All of this will depend on a particular CPA’s professional and personal skills and strengths.