From .gov to .com
- By Dan Caterinicchia, Dan Caterinicchia
- Jul 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 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
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
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
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
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
"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