The General Services Administration launched its first-ever online property auction Wednesday, allowing the general public to bid on surplus, excess and seized goods in real time. Eager deal-seekers who once crowded into cold warehouses to bid on merchandise can now log on to GSAAuctions.gov and compete with buyers nationwide for used cars and boats, old office equipment or a 1.5 carat diamond-encrusted gold money clip, among other items. Federal agencies looking to get rid of anything from unneeded industrial equipment or jewelry confiscated in drug busts have turned to the new GSA site as a quick and cost-effective way of reaching a wide audience of interested buyers, said Bob Hamilton, director of GSA's Fleet and Personal Property Division. Anecdotal evidence suggests that online auctions produce a greater rate of return, he said, because large numbers of people can be reached at one time. Buyers register online and then are free to view the items for sale and to see and post bids. As the digital middleman, GSA takes a cut of every transaction. A coin press that sells for $6,000, for example, nets the agency a $750 service fee plus 12 percent of the proceeds. The balance of the revenue is returned to the U.S. Treasury or to the agency that offered up the property for sale. Not all federal agencies are currently on board with GSA's version of eBay, but the agency wants that to change. Private organizations such as Bid4assets.com also auction government property over the Internet, but Hamilton says GSA will go after their federal business. "We want to show [agencies] how quickly it can be done," he said, referring to the site's ability to rapidly connect buyers and sellers anywhere in the country. Under current fee structures, GSA can auction an asset with lower commission costs to sellers than some private companies. The agency plans to use a marketing campaign to promote the service to the public and to other agencies in the coming months. GSA tapped Ariba Inc. and American Management Systems last year to design and build the site. At the time of the site's launch, more than 400 assets were up for bid with more than 1,000 registered users waiting to buy.
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