Helping Government Vehicles Go Electric

William Sonenberg is applying lessons learned in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program two decades ago so the federal government can reduce fossil fuel consumption and slow climate change by making its fleet all-electric.

During President Joe Biden's first week in office in 2021, he issued an executive order to transition the federal government’s entire fleet of vehicles to all-electric, bringing the number of gallons of gasoline used from nearly three-quarters of a billion down to zero. 

Since January 2022, William Sonenberg has been helping the federal government do just that.  

Sonenberg is the program director for the General Services Administration's (GSA) Center for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure. His piece of the all-electric pie is to create the strategy that ensures federal facilities have the needed electrical infrastructure to keep the government’s fleet charged. 

To navigate federal government red tape on such a massive project, Sonenberg is using skills he learned in Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program, which is part of the McCormick School of Engineering.  

“Working in a large bureaucratic organization can be challenging, you need to be resilient, flexible, creative, and adaptable to get work done,” Sonenberg said. “Communication is key.” 

It is also vital on such a massive project. The federal government operated more than 656,000 vehicles in 2021 that consumed more than 735 million gallons of gasoline, according to a GSA report. That included more than: 

  • 234,000 Postal Service vehicles 
  • 181,000 non-tactical military vehicles 
  • 241,000 civilian agency vehicles 

In total, the fleet cost taxpayers more than $4.4 billion in 2021.  

Sonenberg (MPM '99) brings to this undertaking nearly two decades of experience with the GSA, which is responsible for constructing, managing, and preserving Federal government buildings and the technology needed to support them, among other things. His post-MPM successes with the GSA include managing a $1.4 billion national new construction and renovation program for federal courthouses and a $2 billion portfolio of projects in planning, design, and construction at federal facilities spread over 23 states.  

“I greatly appreciate the variety of work and the opportunities and career paths available to employees at GSA,” he said. “I enjoy change and like to challenge myself by getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new.” 

Sonenberg said he regularly relies on MPM’s lessons in all the work he does. Beyond the emphasis on communication, he leverages skills developed in the program to ensure all work items, equipment, and materials are covered for a project. He makes sure to engage with the entire project team and coordinate comprehensive project schedules. He listens to the input from team members to understand and manage project risks. He also is unafraid to ask questions and find experts when searching for answers.  

“These lessons are key and integral to every project and program I’ve been a part of in both the public and private sector,” he said.   

His success at implementing the MPM program’s lessons over the course of his career led him to be a strong advocate for others to follow in his footsteps. His advice to future MPM students is to stay current with technology and remain involved with industry organizations that help expand their network.  

“Never stop learning and growing,” he said. “Put yourself out there to obtain greater experience. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.”  

Mr. Sonenberg contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. General Services Administration or the United States Government. 

McCormick News Article