Rob Sand went before the voters in 2018 for a chance to serve in a different capacity and to lift his spirits after years of putting crooks — including noted lottery scammer Eddie Tipton — behind bars. 

Sand was getting a bit down at spending his whole day thinking about how someone had screwed up and was in trouble with the law. He eventually decided that he saw promise in the state auditor’s office, which he discovered had more power than many people thought to make the state a better place by improving governmental efficiency. 

Sand, a Democrat who had been assistant attorney general since September 2010, decided to run against Auditor Mary Mosiman, who had held the position since 2013. He won, taking over a $10 million-a-year operation that includes making sure local governments are properly using and accounting for tax monies.

Sand had run a high-profile campaign that focused on his ability to navigate the complicated lottery-fixing case against Tipton and other frauds. He promised to look out for taxpayers and he spent more time than you might expect reading the Iowa Code section that lays out the powers he has in his office. 

Sand also discovered to his shock that he gets to work out of a high-ceiling, ornate office at the Capitol, even though he figured he was headed to a more nondescript state office building. He now has adorned his office walls with hunting trophies: mostly mounted deer heads. 

What interested you in running for auditor?
I’d worked a lot with the office. And I knew I liked working with the people over there, but I also saw that there was a lot more that could be done for taxpayers with the office if you had somebody in there that had some real energy and some willingness to shake things up. So for example, I knew they had no one with any criminal prosecution background or law enforcement background, even though they do all of Iowa’s public corruption investigations. So they would routinely make decisions in their investigations that would be costly to the state and occur in a courtroom. It would be like having a football team where you have 11 quarterbacks on offense. 

They had only CPAs and accountants in the office. You can have a Hall of Fame quarterback and if you put them on the offensive line, they are going to get pancaked.

[Sand’s staff includes another former assistant attorney general, Chief of Staff John McCormally. The leadership team includes Democrats, Republicans and independents.]

Also, I reached the point where criminal prosecution was changing my outlook on the world. It was good for me to get a little seasoning, but I was spending all my time in darkness. I tend to be a happy person, I tend to be an optimist, and it changed that. I decided I wanted to do something different. I started looking into the auditor’s office because I knew I could make a positive impact.

Did you make changes, then?
I knew I wanted people with a law enforcement background on staff. I also sat down and read Chapter 11 of the Iowa Code like three times. [The auditor’s office has] insanely broad authority just to make government work better. And they didn’t use it [before]. All they would do is really standard format, financial statement audits. And that’s great and important to do, but there is this really strong ability to actually make government operate more efficiently and effectively for taxpayers. That’s what made me excited about it. I could get up every day and think of new ways to make government work better. 

Our P.I.E. program is the primary change. Public Innovations and Efficiencies. We have collected in one pie chart or checklist very basic money-saving practices that any government entity can follow to save taxpayer money. You can download it off our website and save a lot of money on your own home. That’s up to you, but every public entity should be doing these things. We just started sending this out [in November] to state agencies, cities, counties, school districts, pretty much any public entity. There is going to be transparency about whether they bother to participate, because you’re going to be able to go on to our website and pull up the answers for any public entity that you want to look at. [Among the topics addressed are energy efficiency, use of technology, use of printing, recycling and conversion of waste methane into energy.]

Have you accomplished your early goals?
We have actually hit already a lot of campaign promises that we made, and we’re not quite a year in. Before I get to those, we’ve saved about 3% of our budget just by making some changes in our internal processes. I said in the campaign we need to have people with backgrounds in law enforcement in this office. Well, in the first year we’ve hired two people with law enforcement backgrounds — a woman who’s a 12-year veteran of the Colorado State Patrol and a man who for 20 years was a special agent for the federal government specializing on [investigating] financial crime. And we made sure we have the tri-partisan leadership team so we know that anytime we make a decision around the table it is with people who think differently. And a third goal was promoting efficiency, and we started the P.I.E. program. 

How are you wired?
I would always rather be a little too busy than not quite busy enough. I think habits matter and pace matters. When you keep yourself busy, I think you tend to expect more of yourself. There are few things at the office that can actually spoil my mood more than just feeling like I didn’t get anything done. I’m a big believer in work hard, play hard. But that can mean that work hard might involve outside of normal business hours. I value efficiency. There are very, very few things I dislike more than feeling like I’m wasting time, or someone else is wasting my time. I’m learning to delegate more to about 100 employees. This is the first time I’ve been paid to be in a management position [he was volunteer editor of a law journal]. I really try to focus on making sure people in the office feel valued and appreciated. 

What do you do in your spare time?
Hunting is about my only hobby outside of family stuff. We’ll go fishing or go on a bike ride.