WASHINGTON (07/24/2000) - Harold Gracey wants to accomplish something that most federal government veterans never get a chance to do. He wants to better the government from the private side, the same way that he did internally for more than 30 years.
Gracey, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' first chief information officer, just ended his lengthy federal service career to join FedBid.com, one of a handful of Internet companies that have emerged in the federal market.
Gracey is one of many longtime federal em-ployees who have left to join private industry in the past several years. He believes FedBid.com has real potential to bring about a change in government, providing an easy way for agencies to take advantage of the dot-com revolution now overtaking the private sector.
Gracey was not planning to leave government. But after years of working to make the VA a smarter technology customer, he found that FedBid's offer was one he could not refuse. He met with FedBid's management team in mid-April, and "the more they talked, the more interesting it was."
"It's good for government, it's unique and was built with the government in mind," Gracey said of the company that officially launched in May. "And it's in an area where the government can move the fastest. Retooling e-procurement and e-commerce will move a lot faster than e-service to citizens because of privacy and protection issues."
Gracey added, "The government is ready for this, and it gives me the excitement of doing something else for government but trying it from [the private] side."
FedBid.com combines online credit card purchasing and auction technology to give agencies a new way to make small purchases. On the company's World Wide Web site, government buyers can solicit bids on proposed purchases of less than $25,000, the standard monthly limit for government credit cards.
Agencies also can aggregate their purchases to get even better prices, and on every page, users see how much money they saved using the system.
"It is a federal employee's job to be a steward of taxpayers' money, which makes them more cautious than a commercial enterprise," said Gracey, FedBid's vice president of government affairs. "You take a vow in government service to do that well and do it right. FedBid.com accommodates the government users and [its] issues. It's not the best of breed - it is the breed."
The National Pastime
Gracey's favorite pastime outside of work is baseball, both watching professional games and watching his three children - Colleen, Kevin and Brian - play ball. A Baltimore native and lifelong Orioles fan, he likens his transition from the public to the private sector to one of his Orioles heroes going from the American to the National League.
"Frank Robinson was the first player to be the most valuable player in both leagues," Gracey said. "This job allows me to try and be an MVP in this league, too."
Before joining FedBid.com, Gracey oversaw the operation of the VA's computer systems and telecommunications networks for medical information, veterans benefits payments, life insurance programs and financial management systems.
The government service veteran said there are some similarities he has already experienced since the job change, namely that FedBid.com and the VA are both mission-oriented and focused on doing their jobs.
He said the main differences between the government and the private sector is the speed at which decisions are made and the age of the work force.
"Our management team is all in their 30s, and our developers are in their 20s," Gracey said. "You don't see that in government where the average age is 40s and 50s."
A Government Role Model
Gracey said the toughest part about leaving the government was leaving the people, but because his new job is so focused on government agencies, that pain was short-lived.
"I'd put myself up against almost anybody when it comes to knowing how government works," Gracey said. "Going to something new and different is tough, but it's cushioned by the fact that we're so government-oriented. All the senior-level people at FedBid have been in government service jobs for a significant amount of their careers."
Phillip Fuster, president and chief executive officer at the Germantown, Md.-based company, said Gracey's experience in federal procurement and his reputation as a "doer" were exactly what FedBid.com was looking for.
"Within about 15 minutes of having met him, we knew," Fuster said. "He's a "been there, done that' type of individual, a doer who is nonpolitical and very well liked because he treats people really well."
Gracey helped establish that reputation for himself during his five-year tenure as chief of staff for former VA secretary Jesse Brown, a man Gracey considers a hero for his service to veterans in rebuilding the department.
"I worked five years with Jesse, and I think together we changed the image of that organization for the better, from a stodgy bureaucracy to a world-class organization," Gracey said. "Jesse was so focused on doing the job and doing good 24 hours a day. It was an interesting lesson to see someone that devoted at the top of an organization."
That lesson has been re-taught countless times at the VA and is now benefiting the employees at FedBid.com, because Harold Gracey lives it every day.