Gilbert P. "Gil" Knarich was laid off 18 months ago as director of financial reporting for a $5 billion-a-year Fortune 400 industrial company, turning 55 and reading the want ads at a time when he had hoped to be putting the capstone on a proud career.

As it turned out, he stumbled upon a $1.8 billion-a-year manufacturing and international marketing operation undergoing rigorous change, reengineering itself to aggressively improve efficiency and tap new markets. The organization? The U.S. Mint.

And as assistant director for financial planning, analysis and review for the U.S. Mint, Knarich likes to prove wrong some of his private-sector friends who may be, well, a little bit smug about government life.

Knarich is responsible for budgeting and planning for the 2,200-worker agency, which had revenue of $2.5 billion last year from its operations in West Point, N.Y.; Philadelphia; Denver; and San Francisco, as well as its Washington headquarters.

The Mint isn't alone in its demand for people such as Knarich. Across the federal government as of Thursday, agencies had 132 unfilled accountant slots, 61 of them in Washington; 100 openings for accounting technicians; 200 for management/program analysts; and 500 for administrative program specialists.

"There is a real, vital role for people in financial management in the federal government. They have a seat at the table now, as do people with high-technology skills," said Office of Personnel Management Director Janice R. Lachance, explaining that traditional support staffers now play key roles in measuring agencies' performance and improving results under new reforms.

"They have an ability to bargain and work with supervisors to make sure we have the talent we need, to meet the needs we have," she said.

Lachance added the traditional pitch for work in public service: "The federal government offers extraordinary challenges and the ability to see that the work you do changes people's lives. And there just aren't that many places in the world where you can do that."

Recruiters are hitting college campuses to fill 200 anticipated slots in eight agencies and departments.

Interested candidates should visit the OPM Web site and job-listing directory at www.usajobs.opm.gov, or call 202-606-2700. As of Sept. 1, the database listed 12,595 vacancies for federal jobs.

ON THE JOB: Federal accountant

Salary: $22,000 to $75,433.

Education: College degree not required, but equivalent skills needed

Experience: Accountants must have good communication skills and technical competency in general accounting principles, methods and practices.