The task of determining the best way to allocate limited financial resources is a critical function for any type of successful business enterprise. The individuals who perform this function are called Budget Analysts. Analysts are found in a wide variety of business settings. Some work in private industry, while others work for nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Budget analysts have a key role in the development and execution of budgets. They are responsible for allocating existing resources as well as estimating future financial requirements.
Budget analysts provide value to organizations in a variety of ways; however, their most important function is to provide advice and technical assistance to firms in the preparation of annual budgets. Operational and financial plans generated by a corporation's management representatives need to be carefully reviewed by a budget analyst in light of funding needed for new initiatives along with capital expenditures needed to fund existing programs. For private firms, analysts primarily focus on efficiency and new ways to improve company profits. Those analysts who work for nonprofit organizations or government agencies are not usually concerned with profits, but still must seek out the most efficient distribution of organizational resources among a variety of programs and departments.
Budget analysts comprise the centerpiece of an organization's annual budget cycle. At the outset of each budget cycle, the organization's managers and department heads submit proposed operational and financial plans to budget analysts for review. Within these plans are program outlines, estimates of each program's financial requirements, and propose funding initiatives to meet those requirements. The budget analyst will then conduct an initial review. Estimates are examined for accuracy, completeness, and conformance to organizational objectives and established procedures and regulations. The analyst conducts this examination using cost-benefit analyses, information on past budgets, and research into outside economic developments affecting the organization's ability to spend.
Once the initial review is completed, budget analysts consolidate individual departmental budgets into budget summaries which encapsulate the cases for or against funding requests. The summaries are then submitted to senior management, whose representatives, with the assistance of budget analysts, carefully scrutinize the proposals. Working together, the management reps and budget analysts devise alternatives to problems they encounter and achieve a finalized budget plan. The final decision to approve this budget is usually made by the organization head in a private firm, or by elected officials (e.g., legislators) in a government entity.
As the fiscal year unfolds, analysts monitor the budget by conducting periodic reviews of reports and accounting records in order to verify that allocated funds are being spent as specified. If discrepancies between the approved budget and the actual execution are found, budget analysts often explain the variations in writing and recommend revised procedures. These recommendations may include cuts to programs or a reallocation of excess funds. In addition, budget analysts perform assessments of the efficiency and effectiveness of new programs or existing ones which are being changed. While doing all these things, analysts continually keep program managers and others within the organization in the loop on the status and availability of funds in different accounts.
In addition to the work they do during the budget cycle, analysts are also often involved in long-range financial planning. In recent years, budget analysts have seen their role broadened even further, in response to widespread corporate and government downsizing caused by reduced funding. Analysts now are often involved in measuring organizational performance and assessing the effects of various corporate policies on the budget. Those who work for the government are sometimes involved in the drafting of budget-related legislation. In addition, budget analysts are occasionally called upon to conduct employee training sessions to inform personnel about new budget procedures.
To an increasing extent, budget analysts are relying heavily on computerized financial software to help them do their work. Database software, electronic spreadsheets, and word processing software have become powerful tools in the analysis of financial data. This technology has expanded the amount of data and information available to budget analysts and has enabled then to analyze more data than ever.
Work schedules tend to vary according to milestones in the yearly budget cycle. Periods of initial development, midyear reviews, and final reviews of budgets require long hours; during these periods it is not uncommon for budget analysts to work well in excess of 40 hours per week. The typical work environment for analysts is a comfortable one; they normally work in office settings. For some analysts, there is a certain amount of travel associated with the job, mostly to obtain first-hand information or verification of budget details.
Budget analysts spend a significant amount of their time working independently. There is a fair amount of stress that comes with the job, mostly in the form of tight work schedules and pressure to meet deadlines at certain times of year. In order to be a good budget analyst, a person needs not only mathematical skills but also the ability to communicate well orally and in writing, in order to present and defend budget proposals to decision makers. In addition, analysts must adhere to strict ethical standards at all times and must always display integrity, objectivity, and confidentiality in dealing with financial information. They must also have an ability to work under rigid time constraints.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS) anticipates job growth in this field to progress about as fast as the average for all occupations over the upcoming decade. Both the public and private sectors will have a continued need for sound financial analysis during this span. Because of the continual importance of the financial analysis function throughout all phases of the yearly business cycle, budget analysts as a general rule tend to be less vulnerable to layoffs than workers in many other job categories.
In general, analysts holding advanced degrees beyond the bachelor level are expected to have the best job opportunities. Those who are familiar with spreadsheet, database, graphics, and financial-analysis computer software will also enjoy a distinctive edge in the job market. As time goes on, it is expected that the role of budget analyst will continue to expand in many organizations to encompass such functions as performance evaluation and policy analysis, which will make the budget analyst even more valuable to the organization.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Candidates for budget analyst jobs need at least a bachelor's degree, although a master's degree is required for some jobs and preferred nearly everywhere. There are occasional circumstances where a sufficient amount of relevant work experience can be substituted for formal education. Degree majors can be in accounting, business, finance, public administration, economics, political science, statistics, or sociology. For jobs in certain firms, a degree major in a field closely related to that of the employing organization (e.g., engineering) may be preferred. Regardless of the degree major, coursework in accounting and statistics are always helpful due to the strong quantitative and analytical skills required for the profession.
Once employed, budget analysts typically receive a fair amount of on-the-job training to learn their craft. Analysts in many organizations, including the Federal Government, also receive extensive classroom training. Familiarization with the steps involved in the budgeting process is typically achieved by an entry-level analyst working through a complete one-year budget cycle. Many government analysts seek out the prestigious Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) designation granted by the Association of Government Accountants. To earn this certification, an analyst must hold a bachelor's degree and also 24 credit-hours of financial management coursework and two years of government work experience in financial management. They must also pass a series of three exams covering topics related to the government and government financial management. The certification must be renewed every two years and during every two-year interval, analysts must complete 80 hours of continuing professional education in order to renew the certification.
- Association of Government Accountants
- Congressional Budget Office
- National Association of State Budget Officers
- The American Association for Budget and Program Analysis
- Budget Explorer
Nearly half of all budget analysts work in the public sector for either the Federal Government or governments at the state or local level. Other major employers of budget analysts include schools; financial, scientific, or management services; and the manufacturing industry.
Schools for Budget Analysts are listed in the column to the left.