In the 1970s, Charles F. Grady was in charge of procuring all the millions of parts that went into building the Space Shuttle. Now, he faces another daunting challenge: overhauling California government purchasing.

Charles F. Grady

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"The challenge I saw when I got here really stimulated me. California really needed to bring its whole procurement process into the 20th century, so that we can get into the 21st century."

Grady, who spent more than 20 years in procurement-related positions in the aerospace industry, oversees the Procurement Division of California's Department of General Services (DGS) -- an organization moving away from handling the state's day-to-day commodity transactions to a more strategic role.

Under Grady, who was named to his current post by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995, the Procurement Division emphasizes instruments -- like purchase cards and multiple award schedules -- that shift commodity transactions closer to end users. In more complex acquisitions, Grady strives to instill the notion that state agencies must forecast their technology requirements years in advance to ensure that private industry can provide what they need.

"The challenge I saw when I got here really stimulated me," said Grady. "California really needed to bring its whole procurement process into the 20th century, so that we can get into the 21st century."

A Rocket Scientist

Grady, a native of Fort Valley, Ga., brings to his position vast experience in complex procurements. He entered state government service after a private-sector career that included six years as the director of material for Rockwell International's space division.

Managing an organization of some 750 people, Grady rode herd over 10,000 subcontractors involved in the Space Shuttle program. "We ran those competitions and awarded those contracts," he said. "Of course, the more difficult activity was to manage those contracts until the parts of the shuttle were tested and delivered and integrated."

Like most large aerospace projects, subcontractors built large portions of the shuttle, including the wings, avionics and electromechanical systems, explained Grady. "The prime contractor does very little of the actual building. Typically, the value of the subcontracts is 60 to 70 percent of the value of the project," he said. "There were probably about 150 [subcontractors] that had major, major elements of the shuttle program. So program management is really a very significant element."

In addition to his work at Rockwell, Grady also served as controller and director of administration for Honeywell, operations manager for materials at Hughes Aircraft, and senior management consultant for Arthur D. Little. Grady was appointed to his current position after taking an early retirement from McDonnell Douglas, where he was director of supplier management.

These days, Grady seeks to inject some of the supplier-base management and program management techniques developed for the space program into the way California acquires complex computer projects.

"The work of procurement isn't to issue purchase orders. It's to interface with the public sector and put the problem together with the solution," said Grady. "My experience in the aerospace industry translates pretty directly to what's needed here in the state environment."

Critical Communication

Grady contends the state must become better at predicting its future technology requirements and more adept at preparing private industry to meet them. He said government tends to spring technology demands on IT suppliers with very little warning, simply assuming that vendors will be ready with the appropriate products.

Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. "The private sector tries to anticipate these things, but they don't have the information," he said. "That's why, in my mind, some programs run into trouble. We don't prepare [vendors] very well, and then we try to hurry them up."

Grady believes a key task for purchasing organizations is to prod agency leaders into thinking about their technology needs