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Working as an Accountant in the Government, According to Parks and Rec!

Online DegreesAugust 13, 2015

After graduating from an accounting degree program, you may decide to focus your job search on one of three sectors: corporate, government or nonprofit. Although corporate employees tend to receive higher salaries than government or nonprofit workers, some benefits, such as government pension plans, surpass similar perks in the private sector. If a career in public service interests you, then working as an accountant for a government agency or a nonprofit organization may be the right fit.

Government Accounting

Government jobs tend to offer additional benefits, such as pensions and a greater number of paid holidays. One example of a television character working as an accountant within the government is Ben Wyatt on NBC's Parks and Recreation. Ben first appeared on the show as a government auditor assigned to assist Pawnee's parks and recreation crew with budget cuts. At first, the crew treated him as an adversary. Over time, Ben gained the other characters' trust and built a successful working relationship with the government agency's employees. As far as technical standards, government accountants must follow a set of rules designed for their sector. While the corporate sector follows the standards of the Financial Accounting Standard Board (FASB), government accounting is ruled by an independent board, known as the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Also, government agencies are audited according to Government Accounting Standards (GAS), rather than the FASB's Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Forensic Accounting

Those interested in forensic accounting may also want to focus their job search in the government sector. Forensic accounting focuses on fraud detection and the discovery of white collar crime. If you are interested in both accounting and law enforcement, consider a position with an agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where up to 15 percent of agents are classified as special agent accountants.

Nonprofit Accounting

During the last few seasons of Parks and Recreation, Ben Wyatt also worked for the nonprofit Sweetums' Foundation. Many accountants easily move back and forth between government agencies and nonprofit organizations, because both sectors employ a type of accounting known as fund accounting, which emphasizes the allocation of funds over profits. Unlike government agencies, nonprofits are guided by the FASB and use GAAP. A Not-For-Profit Advisory Committee (NAC) provides input and assists with communication between the FASB and the nonprofit sector. One key difference in accounting for nonprofits is regarding financial statements. For example, there is no income statement for a nonprofit company because the organization's primary goal is to provide help to others, not to generate income. Nonprofit accountants must also learn to account for proceeds from grants and donations. Recently, donors have begun to request greater transparency from nonprofit corporations to ensure that financial contributions are actually used to further the mission of the nonprofit. As such, nonprofit accountants are responsible for preparing financial statements that show how donations are used within the organization. No matter where you ultimately end up working as an accountant, whether it be the corporate world, the government or for a nonprofit, you will have the opportunity to grow in your career. As Ben has demonstrated many times in the past few seasons of Parks and Recreation, job opportunities are available for good accountants in every business sector. Photo Source: Flickr 

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