Public Finance as a Profession

By Miller, Girard | Government Finance Review, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Public Finance as a Profession


Miller, Girard, Government Finance Review


Amid this unique compendium of articles addressing the career development challenges, opportunities, and resources for governmental finance officers, I will attempt to provide a broader perspective on the profession and the vocation of public finance as I believe it should be understood by practitioners and the academy. This will require adjustments in the thinking of some in the field, because "public finance" has come to mean many different things in different contexts. It is not unlike the proverbial Twelve Blind Men and the Elephant (see What IS Public Finance?).

Many GFOA members would likely find themselves hard-pressed to define the term "public finance" In the accounting field, the term "public accounting" means something, and "governmental accounting" means something. Thanks to the GFONs name change (1) and its big-tent spirit of professional association, "governmental finance" means something.

So "public finance" must be something bigger. And indeed it is.

Public finance is a combination of the many official, professional, and economic activities that collectively provide the funding and financial management for public goods, services and facilities. (3) As a vocation and as a profession, the field has unique characteristics. I hope my observations will ring familiar to those who are practicing the art and the science of this field. Equally important, one hopes that students searching for a meaningful career of skilled service to our society will find in this article a way to anticipate and appreciate the choices they must make.

SERVING THROUGH SKILL IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

One of the defining features of public finance as a profession is that it requires a commitment to public service. Some souls stumble their way into our field by default, taking an accounting or financial job in the public or non-profit sector because it is the only skilled position they can find within driving distance of their home at a given time in life. For most practitioners in the field, however, a career in public finance is a conscious choice to serve through skill. Those who make public finance a lifelong commitment generally must forgo the opportunities to accumulate wealth that abound in the world of private finance.

In government and in the not-for-profit sector, ownership of the entity and its resources belongs to the amorphous "public," however that may be defined. Officials and administrators are expressly prohibited from profiting personally from their contributions. A democracy cannot tolerate the corruption that could result from financial officials lining their pockets at the expense of taxpayers or charitable donors. In government, this is accomplished through conflict of interest laws and rules; in the not-for-profit world, the tax law deals severely and punitively with "personal inurement." Unlike a private-sector CFO or an investment banker who may enjoy immense wealth gained from stock options or other equity compensation that links prosperity directly to his or her personal accomplishments or corporate status, a public servant must accept a pat on the back and if fortunate, a modest salary increase, or on rare occasions a token performance bonus.

Service to the public need not require a vow of poverty, however. As skilled professionals, many public finance officers possess scarce talents that command a value in the marketplace, and public employers must offer a combination of monetary and "psychic" income that satisfies the needs of the skilled professional. However, the payroll compensation on this side of the economy, even for the most talented, will seldom exceed the professional middle class in the private sector. Some practitioners may subsequently leverage their skills in the private economy and achieve prosperity there, but those paths are extraordinary rather than commonplace, despite the widespread press attention often given to "revolving door" careers in Washington, D. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Public Finance as a Profession
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.