The Obama administration’s stimulus bill and budget proposal are going to require the outlay of not only trillions of dollars, but the hiring of a lot more accountants to keep track of all that money.
As the federal government embarks on its largest spending program ever in an effort to resuscitate the flagging economy and rescue it from the brink of what some economists now predict will be a depression, the demand for auditors and budget professionals is likely to grow. White House budget director Peter Orszag told the Washington Post that he doesn’t want to bloat the federal bureaucracy, but he acknowledged the need for hiring in some key areas, including “properly auditing contracts.”
Under the Bush administration, the federal government increased its reliance on outside contractors, including two of the Big Four firms to audit the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but the Obama administration has pledged to cut back on contracting as one way to reduce spending.
In the meantime, though, spending is on a delirious upswing as the White House tries to stimulate the economy at all costs. However, Obama has promised that accountability and transparency will be priorities, in part by putting the results and progress of the stimulus effort on new Web sites like Recovery.gov and FinancialStability.gov.
That effort may help some citizen bloggers to turn into armchair watchdogs, but it isn’t likely they will have the ability to do much of an audit just based on the term sheets and contracts posted online.
That effort will require real accountants. Just as accountant hiring shows some signs of softening, as per the latest figures from recruiter Robert Half International, the federal government may become not only the spender of last resort, but also the most likely to hire. Even better, the civil service gives out guaranteed pensions, a rare privilege these days among employers.
But it’s not only the bailout money that needs to be tracked better as banks continue to spend taxpayer funds on dubious-sounding corporate retreats at island getaways and lavish “retention” bonuses. Stimulus money for the states has to be allocated without being too obviously earmarked. The IRS too is hiring. Closing the tax gap becomes ever more crucial even as the federal deficit and national debt balloon.
Obama is also pushing for a cap-and-trade system to control carbon emissions and encourage green energy development. However, such a system is ripe for abuse, as all manner of emissions seem to be counted as carbon-producing these days, including methane-generating sheep belches, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported.
Not that I expect many accountants to volunteer for that job, but there are going to be plenty of opportunities for keeping track of all the green in all the green initiatives and judging how legitimate they really are. Otherwise the next boom and bust cycle could well be in the clean energy sector, and it will be another mess for the accounting profession to clean up.
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