Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Budget Analysts

Private firms and government agencies generally require candidates for budget analyst positions to have at least a bachelorís degree, but many prefer or require a masterís degree. Within the Federal Government, a bachelorís degree in any field is sufficient for an entry-level budget analyst position, but, again, those with masterís degrees are preferred. State and local governments have varying requirements, but a bachelorís degree in one of many areasóaccounting, finance, business or public administration, economics, political science, statistics, or a social science such as sociologyómay qualify one for entry into the occupation. Many States, especially larger, more urban States, require a masterís degree. Sometimes, a degree in a field closely related to that of the employing industry or organization, such as engineering, may be preferred. Some firms prefer candidates with a degree in business because business courses emphasize quantitative and analytical skills. Many government employers prefer candidates with strong analytic and policy analysis backgrounds that may be obtained through such majors as political science, economics, public administration, or public finance. Occasionally, budget-related or finance-related work experience can be substituted for formal education.

Because developing a budget involves manipulating numbers and requires strong analytical skills, courses in statistics or accounting are helpful, regardless of the prospective budget analystís major field of study. Financial analysis is automated in almost every organization and, therefore, familiarity with word processing and the financial software packages used in budget analysis often is required. Software packages commonly used by budget analysts include electronic spreadsheet, database, and graphics software. Employers usually prefer job candidates who already possess these computer skills.

In addition to analytical and computer skills, those seeking a career as a budget analyst must be able to work under strict time constraints. Strong oral and written communication skills are essential for analysts because they must prepare, present, and defend budget proposals to decision makers.

Entry-level budget analysts may receive some formal training when they begin their jobs, but most employers feel that the best training is obtained by working through one complete budget cycle. During the cycle, which typically is 1 year, analysts become familiar with the various steps involved in the budgeting process. The Federal Government, on the other hand, offers extensive on-the-job and classroom training for entry-level trainees. In addition to on-the-job training, budget analysts are encouraged to participate in the various classes offered throughout their careers.

Some government budget analysts employed at the Federal, State, or local level may earn the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) designation granted by the Association of Government Accountants. Other government financial officers also may earn this designation. Candidates must have a minimum of a bachelorís degree, 24 hours of study in financial management, and 2 years of experience in government, and must pass a series of three exams. The exams cover topics on the organization and structure of government; governmental accounting, financial reporting and budgeting; and financial management and control.

Budget analysts start their careers with limited responsibilities. In the Federal Government, for example, beginning budget analysts compare projected costs with prior expenditures, consolidate and enter data prepared by others, and assist higher grade analysts by doing research. As analysts progress in their careers, they begin to develop and formulate budget estimates and justification statements, perform indepth analyses of budget requests, write statements supporting funding requests, advise program managers and others on the status and availability of funds for different budget activities, and present and defend budget proposals to senior managers.

Beginning analysts usually work under close supervision. Capable entry-level analysts can be promoted into intermediate-level positions within 1 to 2 years, and then into senior positions within a few more years. Progressing to a higher level means added budgetary responsibility and can lead to a supervisory role. Because of the importance and high visibility of their jobs, senior budget analysts are prime candidates for promotion to management positions in various parts of the organization.