Director, AF Community Partnership Program
Department of the Air Force
Developed innovative partnerships between Air Force bases and neighboring cities to save money on essential community services, from recreation activities to snow removal.
Facing a tight fiscal environment, the Air Force is forming partnerships with the communities surrounding its bases to share support services and facilities, an approach that is saving money, allowing use of scarce funds for essential mission activities and creating value for localities.
The Air Force Community Partnership Program, launched in October 2012, is being led by Steven Zander, who has helped 48 bases and their local communities initiate agreements, including programs for refuse 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 to 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 benefit to the community. At Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, an agreement was reached for the base to send all of its refuse to landfills operated by Prince Georges 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.
“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 Department of Defense 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.’”
Zander helped instill this positive mindset with the few base commanders and community leaders who were skeptical of the changes and worried about taking risks.
“He was able to go out there, meet with the wing commanders and show them the goods and that this was not another paper tiger,” said Gen. Larry O. Spencer, vice chief of staff for the Air Force.
“Wing commanders are focused on the planes on their bases or their satellites or whatever it is their particular base is in charge of. But when I go visit, they want to show me the progress they have made with the Air Force Community Partnership Program,” said Spencer.
“The money he has saved allows the Air Force to put that directly back into combat capability,” he said. “And these are the things that are happening at the facilities, which the commanders can point to as their own success. He has saved the Air Force money and helped it be more efficient.”
Air Force colleagues said Zander possesses remarkable people skills, knows how to navigate the system and is 100 percent mission-driven. 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 said the program has been designed to leverage military and local capabilities and resources to benefit the Air Force mission and provide value to communities. He said the program “already has had an impact on both fronts.”