© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Auditor says Iowa Board of Parole hid documents, takes aim at bill to allow private firms for state audits

rob sand speaks at a podium
Katarina Sostaric
State Auditor Rob Sand says the Iowa Board of Parole refused to provide documents he requested for an investigation.

Democratic State Auditor Rob Sand said Thursday a law passed last year to limit his authority has allowed a state agency to keep him from viewing key documents, and he warned that a new bill advanced this week by Republicans in the Iowa Senate would further hamstring his ability to root out government waste, fraud and abuse.

Sand said a whistleblower told his office the Iowa Board of Parole was not always following the state law that requires parole review panels to have at least one regular board member there when alternate members are present.

Sand said Board of Parole officials assured him that they had taken care of the issue.

But when the auditor’s office asked to view documents to verify that it was fixed, Sand said the Board of Parole refused, citing a law passed last year putting limits on the auditor’s power.

“We are issuing the first report telling the public that the truth remains hidden from them as a result of that law,” Sand said.

Board of Parole and Sand disagree on the need for a formal letter to begin investigating

The Board of Parole contends it did not have to provide the documents because Sand did not provide an engagement letter to begin the investigation.

“Audit engagement letters set out the rights and responsibilities of the parties to the audit, for the benefit of both the auditor and the agency. As noted in the audit report, the Board of Parole requested an engagement letter as required in Iowa law,” a statement from the Board said. “The auditor refused to provide one.”

Sand said a separate letter of engagement is not required by the law. He said a general engagement letter had already been signed for the auditor’s office to audit the whole state government, which includes the Board of Parole.

“The auditor may believe he’s above the law, but he still has to follow it,” said Kollin Crompton, a spokesperson for Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office. “Engagement letters are an industry standard, and it’s concerning that he refuses to comply with it.”

The law passed last year prevents the auditor from taking state agencies and officials to court if they refuse to provide records during an investigation.

Rather than putting disputes over records in front of a judge, the new law lets a three-member arbitration board decide if an agency should give information to the auditor.

Sand said it would have been pointless to appeal the Board of Parole’s decision to an arbitration board.

“That panel would be one person from our office, one person from the Board of Parole—which works at the pleasure of the governor, and a third person chosen by the governor,” he said. “I like efficiency in government. I’m not here to clown around and waste people’s time.”

Sand did not rule out appealing to such a panel in the future.

Senate Republicans advance new bill related to auditor’s duties

On Wednesday, Republicans on a Senate committee advanced a bill that would allow state agencies to opt out of being audited by the state auditor, and instead choose a private accounting firm to perform required audits. Sand said the new bill would make what he sees as growing corruption and secrecy even worse.

“Regarding today’s report on the Board of Parole, we can’t say whether or not the state government is following its own laws,” Sand said. “With this bill, they want to find an auditor who won’t even dare ask the question in the first place.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Michael Bousselot, R-Ankeny, accused Sand of “playing politics” by talking about the Board of Parole.

“He wants to distract from the real issue, which is the bill that would simply give state government the same flexibility that cities, counties and school districts have,” he said.

Bousselot said local governments using private accounting firms has worked well.

Sand said his office is able to review those audits of local governments and follow up with special investigations if more scrutiny is needed. He said he would not be able to do that for state agencies if the bill passes.

Bousselot said Sand would have the same ability to follow up on privately done audits in state government as he has with local governments.

Sand also said the bill would allow state agencies to choose private firms that potentially wouldn’t be as thorough as his office.

“It would replace the state auditor chosen by the people of the state of Iowa with one insiders will hand pick with no bidding requirement and no means for independent oversight of their audits,” Sand said. “These insiders want a state auditor who is a lapdog, not a watchdog.”

Sand also said hiring outside firms would cost taxpayers more money.

Bousselot said state law requires contracts that cost more than $50,000 to go through a public bidding process, which he said the auditor’s office could participate in.

“Only in politics can hiring a nonpartisan, independent, licensed certified public accountant be labeled as political,” Bousselot said.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter