GSA auction site earns $17.7 million in first year

GSA auction site earns $17.7 million in first year

The General Services Administration’s online auction site, at, has generated about $17.7 million in more than 10,000 auctions of surplus federal property in its first year.

That is less than 10 percent of the more than $200 million in surplus property GSA sells each year, but enough for the agency to call the site an unqualified success.

“We’ve gone slowly to ensure we can make the business process transformation,” said Don Heffernan, deputy CIO of GSA’s Federal Supply Service. “We’re changing the way agencies work with us.”

The Web technology works fine, Heffernan said, and “is up and available all the time.”

So far about 37,000 of GSA’s 100,000 bidders have registered with the site, said Victor Arnold-Bik, GSA’s chief of sales.

“The bidders either love it or they hate it,” Arnold-Bik said. Some bidders prefer a live, in-person auction where they can go eyeball-to-eyeball with others. “They feel they have a strategy,” he said.

Arnold-Bik said he cannot be sure whether auctioning online increases bids. “We don’t have standardization” to compare, say, the price of a fleet car sold at a physical auction last year with a newer model sold online this year, he said, “but the general trend has been upward or the same.”

In a recent auction, two jet engines that ordinarily would sell for around $20,000 ended up going for more than $150,000 each, he said.

“You just need two serious bidders who know the value of the property,” Arnold-Bik said.

FSS disposes of the government’s surplus property and seized goods, which can include everything from aircraft and fleet vehicles to cameras and potted plants. Available items are logged into the Federal Excess Disposal System, which runs on a Unisys Series A mainframe. Other federal, state and local organizations can browse FEDS listings over GSA’s intranet.

Whatever a government agency wants is free—first come, first served. After the material has been picked over by agencies, the remainder goes up for public sale.

Everything’s for sale

The auction site is a front end to FEDS. Items offered on a recent day included notebook computers, a drill rig, cars and trucks, antique bookcases, chrome racing wheels and a 72-foot torpedo retriever boat.

The GSA system, operated by WAMNet Inc. of Eagan, Minn., uses Trading Dynamics software from Ariba Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. WAMNet provides multiterabyte RAID storage on Sun Microsystems servers and network bandwidth that starts at 2 Mbps and can scale to 2.5 Gbps on demand.

“WAMNet has been great,” Heffernan said. “For the type of auction we do, it has been quite functional.”

As commercial auction sites have proved, almost anything can be sold online. One of the items offered on GSAAuctions’ first day in 2001 was the rusted hulk of a towing motor. “Why did they put that up?” Arnold-Bik said he wondered when he saw it. “It’s opening day, people will be looking at us.”

But it sold.

The decision about what to put online is up to GSA’s regional staffs, which work with the selling agencies.

“We’ve found that just about anything we try will attract buyers,” said Peggy Lowndes, director of property management for GSA’s Pacific Rim Region in San Francisco.

Things that do not lend themselves to online sale include very high-ticket items, for which bid deposits are required, or goods such as medical equipment for which buyers must prequalify.

“Those are the exceptions,” Lowndes said. “The vast majority of anything we handle can be brought online.”

The Pacific Rim Region puts almost all of its surplus goods online. “We knew it was going to be successful,” Lowndes said, “but a lot of us didn’t anticipate we were going to move so quickly to putting everything there.”

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