Study: Agencies take in billions from online retail sales

According to a new study, federal agencies sold more than $3.6 billion in products and property over the Internet last year.

The study, conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Federal Computer Week magazine, found that Uncle Sam operates or supports at least 164 sites that sell goods to the public.

The Treasury Department accounts for the bulk of the online sales. Its Treasury Direct site sold $3.3 billion in U.S. savings bonds, T-bills and notes in 2000.

In addition, the General Services Administration sold some $3 million in government surplus goods last year, and the Library of Congress even sold music compact discs. In some cases, government agencies are working with private-sector companies such as to auction items.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association said such government e-commerce raises alarm bells.

"There is clearly a disturbing pattern at work here," said CCIA President and CEO Ed Black. "Agencies are capitalizing on new technology and lowered barriers to entry to move beyond their authorized missions into areas that are within the traditional realm of the private sector."