AN EYE ON NATIONAL TREASURIES
Government accounting always came in two styles: state or local
and federal. But Jim Wesberry—who spent his entire adult life and his teen years involved with governments—has
found a career working with governments beyond U.S. borders in a niche long-ignored by big firms.
Wesberry began his government service as a page in the U.S. House
of Representatives in 1949, when he was 14. "Over my father's protests I stayed for three years, going to school in D.C. From
that time on, government has been the only thing in my professional life I've been interested in." After college he became
a CPA at a local firm in Atlanta. "This was about 40 years ago, and no one wanted to do government work. When a government
audit engagement came up, I'd raise my hand while everyone else would hide under their desks," Wesberry says wryly.
Jim Wesberry: North or South America—
all government accounting.
Wesberry's interest in government work led him to start his own
specialty firm. Perhaps his greatest marketing technique was to specialize in an area he had interest in—but no one
else seemed to. He received referrals for government engagements from the then Big Eight. These were "jobs they wouldn't touch
with a 10-foot pole," he says. "Well, today all the big firms do lots of U.S. government work, but they still don't do much international government work."
Wesberry's first wife was Cuban, and his visits there, before Castro
came to power, engendered a liking for Latin America. So in the 1960s when a New Yorkbased nonprofit agency offered him a
job with travel throughout South America he jumped at the chance. This introduced him to a whole network of international
finance professionals, which led to consulting opportunities with various Latin American governments, such as the Peruvian
comptroller general's office. "In 1972 we issued the world's first government internal control standards in Peru—a decade
before the GAO did in the United States." Another achievement he's proud of was helping develop the Latin American and Caribbean
Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, an umbrella group of audit organizations.
Today he uses his considerable government experience on behalf
of the consulting firm he works for, Casals & Associates, with offices in Virginia, Nicaragua and Argentina. Casals has
contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides economic development overseas to advance
U.S. economic and political interests. Wesberry helps run the Americas' Accountability/Anti-Corruption Project, funded by
USAID, which began as an attempt to improve financial management in Latin American and Caribbean governments. "Government
financial management is my specialty," he said, applying his CPA skills—and lessons learned from municipalities in Georgia—to
the Southern Hemisphere. "We quickly saw we'd be wasting our time trying to improve financial management if we couldn't root
out government corruption, so we held what became the first of a series of Inter-American teleconferences on government fraud."
The road taken
Wesberry's years of government work yielded governmental and professional
honors from Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador. Several countries made him an honorary member of their accountancy organizations.
He says he has only one regret: "Years ago, I ran for the state senate and something terrible happened—I won." The hurly-burly
of such a visible position and the unpleasantness of fundraising sent him quickly back to his true love—government accounting—in
the middle of his third term. His career clearly gives lie to the idea that international work is only about large firms operating
in national capitals. Wesberry took his small-firm background and small town experience in an unpopular practice niche all
the way to another hemisphere.
- Journal of Accountancy - May, 1999