From .gov to .com

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 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.

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