The Air Force Community Partnership Program, launched in October 2012, is being led by Steven Zander, who has helped more than 50 bases and their local communities initiate agreements, including programs for trash collection, wastewater treatment, snow removal, youth activities and library services. More than 1,000 sharing arrangements have been identified so far, with the program rapidly growing in popularity.
“Steven has helped the Air Force and the bases think differently,” said Miranda Ballentine, the Air Force assistant secretary for installations, environment and energy. “It used to be that bases were mini-cities in terms of all the municipal services they provide. Steven has an entire team that goes to the bases and has a clear process to brainstorm ways t o best utilize base and local community money and expertise.”
At Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, for example, the local community is partnering with the military installation to develop a shared sports complex on 63 acres of Air Force land, an enterprise that will bring $900,000 in potential benefits to the base and assist the community. At Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, an agreement was reached for the base to send all of its refuse to landfills operated by Prince George’s County at a rate 25 percent less than it is currently paying for trash disposal.
In another instance, the city of Bedford, Mass., agreed to help Hanscom Air Force Base with its salt-brine application during the winter months, saving the base $15,000 to $25,000 a year, while Joint Base San Antonio avoided spending $250,000 on a new animal shelter by turning over on-base animal control duties to the city of San Antonio. At Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, Fairbanks community leaders recently signed a partnership agreement that aligns military dependents with potential teaching opportunities in the local schools, helping alleviate a teacher shortage while providing jobs for military spouses.
“Each installation has a unique way of how it will expand its community partnerships, and Steven is helping them figure out how to go about it,” said David Sienicki, a staff member of the House Armed Services Committee. “He has a vision and is proactive at problem-solving. He is willing to take risks and challenge the status quo.”
In 2012, Congress approved a law allowing the Defense Department to enter into agreements with local communities, but Zander and his team had to develop a new framework and overcome numerous hurdles.
Timothy Bridges, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, said Zander has faced a variety of legal obstacles, both real and perceived. In some cases, he said, local communities and the Air Force had to negotiate changes to numerous restrictions governing contracts.
“There was one example where a county had a stipulation in its local code that forbids it from doing road work on federal lands,” said Bridges. “Steven’s team facilitated the base and county working together, resulting in the county rewriting the ordinances.”
Bridges noted that there has been friction at some locations with members of the small business community who feared that the agreements would shut them out of opportunities, but Zander “countered this opposition by showing how small business in the local area was gaining some of the work.”
“Steven worked with the partners to help people have confidence and move from, ‘No, it can’t be done,’ to, ‘How we can fix this?’” said Bridges. “Instead of saying what is not allowed, he says, ‘Let’s see what we can do to try to make this support service easier.’”
An architect by training, Zander served in the Air Force from 1979 until 2009. He worked briefly as a contractor and in 2012 became a civilian Air Force employee and was named director of the community partnership program.
Zander says the program was designed to leverage military and local capabilities and resources to benefit the Air Force mission and provide value to communities. The program, he said, “already has had an impact on both fronts.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.