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As a Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) since 2001, I have been fortunate to work in financial management related positions at both the state and federal levels of government. I have also had the rewarding experience of teaching accounting for several universities. This includes my current post at Saint Leo University, where I teach financial, managerial and government accounting courses.. Along the way in addition to the CGFM, I took the time to earn other professional certifications including the CPA, CFE and CMA. Earning certifications is a hallmark of professionalism in accounting. In specialized fields such as accounting, licensing examinations and professional certifications are what tend to set you apart from the herd that steer away from this type of professional growth after graduating from college. Beyond the obvious benefit of demonstrating professional competency, professional certifications make it evident to employers that you have not lost your capacity to continue learning, are willing to be bound by a professional code of ethics and are committed to continuous improvement.
Notwithstanding, most licensing or certification exams generally give governmental accounting only marginal consideration. The most recognized credential in accounting, the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), is frequently associated with working in the private sector either as an entrepreneur with one’s own firm or by joining an existing firm or in private industry. According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) membership statistics, nearly 80 percent of AICPA members work in public accounting firms or in business and industry. Only three percent of AICPA members are reportedly affiliated with government. Beginning a career in governmental or nonprofit accounting is not typically a leading choice among aspiring accounting students. Most accounting students remember governmental accounting as a course they found unusually abstract and difficult to understand. Many accounting students believe that working for an accounting firm is the most promising way to advance their careers, and do not fully appreciating the possibility of working for the public sector.
As someone with prior experience in public administration and has hosen accounting as my profession, I believe the two fields are highly complementary. Accounting is, after all, a profession largely associated with promoting good stewardship and compliance. Regardless of where they may work, those working in the profession can appreciate that many of their duties inherently encompass oversight and control function roles. The chief standard setters and regulatory bodies in the profession (e.g., FASB, GASB, FASAB, SEC, PCAOB, and AICPA) are either governmental agencies or nonprofits. There is nothing inconsistent with being an accountant and working in the public sector. Quite the contrary, as I often remind my accounting students that are working towards obtaining the CPA credential, the “P” doesn’t mean “public company,” but rather, protecting the “public interest.”
While job growth is anticipated in many accounting areas, there is a great need for dedicated financial professionals in government. A recent search on the federal jobs site, USAJOBS, yielded nearly 1,500 open positions when searching with accounting, budgeting, or financial analysis as keywords. There are also many additional accounting related opportunities available at the state and local levels of government. If you are currently studying accounting or are considering a career change, I encourage you to consider public sector accounting and financial management positions when beginning your job search. Become a member of the Association of Governmental Accountants and begin working towards the CGFM designation. By doing so, you will begin to distinguish yourself from the herd. The CGFM certification provides a way to demonstrate one’s expertise in public sector financial management. It is a highly respected credential offered by the Association of Government Accountants that has been earned by over 15,000 governmental accounting and financial managers. The CGFM certification is designed to recognize proficiency not only in governmental accounting, but also in related areas such as governmental budgeting, financial reporting, management and control, as well as the broader governmental environment. So for any accountants who are starting their careers or thinking about a switch, take pride in protecting the public interest and consider work in the public sector as a CGFM.
Nick Lebredo, PhD CGFM CPA CFE CMA, has been a member of the Association of Government Accountants since 2000 and obtained his CGFM certification in 2001. Dr. Lebredo is currently an Associate Professor of Accounting at Saint Leo University near Tampa, Florida.