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CLAS alum oversees greening of federal facilities

By Karen A. Grava

There are more windows in just one building managed by Robert Zarnestke than there are public buildings in Norwich, Conn.

But complexity is nothing new for Zarnestke, CLAS ’89, who had been the city manager in Norwich before moving to Boston to become the Regional Administrator for the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA).

There, he manages federal buildings throughout New England, including everything from small neighborhood Social Security Administration offices such as the one in Willimantic, Conn. to one of the largest office buildings in downtown Boston — the John F. Kennedy Federal Building.

His inventory includes 47 federal buildings (including the federal courthouses in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford), 400 leased locations (such as the FBI headquarters in New Haven and the Internal Revenue Service processing center in Andover, Mass.) and 27 border-crossing facilities on the Canadian border.

The largest federal building in New England, the Kennedy Building, opened in 1966, has two 26-floor towers connected by a four-story building. It has 4,600 windows, all of which are being replaced to improve the building envelope and energy efficiency, Zarnetske notes.

Zarnetske says he has yet to visit all of the buildings he is responsible for. He says he plans to wait for the snow to melt before inspecting most of the facilities in northern Maine. “The facilities managers on the ground know exactly what they’re doing and they do it well. They work with other federal agencies and local officials to ensure that the federal facilities are open and available to the public, ” he says.

Zarnetske also notes that many federal buildings in New England are being updated to make them more energy efficient. “I’m really enjoying being at the General Services Administration right now. It’s an exciting time because we’re pushing the envelope on green technology, ” he says. “We’re literally helping create the emerging market for renewable energy. ”

At a border crossing between Maine and Canada, energy is supplied by wind turbines. “We are very keen on energy conservation and the use of renewable energy systems, including wind, solar and geothermal systems, ” he says. At the Cotter Federal Building in Hartford, the GSA just finished installing a solar membrane roof, which resembles a traditional rubber roof material with built-in solar-electric generating cells. “We were able to stop the leaks in the roof and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, ” says Zarnetske.

“Working at the GSA is doing yeoman’s work, ” he says. “I interact with businessmen and landlords and local officials, mayors, and city council members to facilitate property development and jobs growth. The job has a lot of interesting opportunities and challenges, ” he says.

One of Zarnetske’s priorities as Regional Administrator is to engage with the small business community and programs that promote small businesses, such as the state Procurement Technical Assistance Centers. “GSA has an active small business outreach program that benefits communities throughout New England. We join with state and local entities to give small business access to federal government opportunities, ” he says.

In Fiscal Year 2010, the GSA’s New England Region Office of Small Business participated in 43 conferences or workshops offering information about how to do business with the federal government. Approximately $16M of GSA’s business dollars went to Connecticut small businesses in FY 2010

Based in the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Federal Building in Boston, Zarnetske finds New England a “wonderful region to work in. You can get the job done here no matter what the circumstances.”

He notes “the people at GSA work hard and they understand that government service is about being part of a community. In everything we do, we try to remember that we work for our neighbors and one of our most important jobs is to focus on the little things that can make a big difference to the communities and customers we serve. ”

Zarnetske got his start as a government employee after earning a political science master’s degree at UConn. He also holds a master’s in administration from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Oregon, where he studied real estate law.

Before joining GSA, Zarnetske worked for Senators Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland) and at the U.S. Departments of Education and Transportation


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