GSA to centralize the sale of excess government property

By Daniel Pulliam

August 23, 2006

Officials with the General Services Administration's Federal Asset Sales e-government initiative are preparing to launch a central Internet portal on Oct. 1 for selling excess government property, in an attempt to consolidate agency sale centers.

Federal Asset Sales, one of the original e-government projects launched in 2001, was originally intended to act as a governmentwide center for purchasing excess property. But the logistics proved difficult and the project struggled to move forward. It faced contract protests and a lack of agency buy-in.

The new concept for centralizing government sales is based on the lines of business idea introduced by Office of Management and Budget in 2004, GSA officials said in an interview last week. The lines of business give agencies options for unloading operations that are not part of their core functions, for a fee.

On July 17, OMB approved four agency-run sales operations that will act as centers for disposing of civilian agencies' personal property. The centers are GSA Auctions, the Treasury Department's Forfeiture Fund, the U.S. Marshals Service Asset Forfeiture Program and the Agriculture Department's Centralized Excess Property Operation.

A draft regulation is being prepared to require agencies to migrate from their existing sales operations to one of the four approved centers, GSA officials said. The Defense Department will be excluded because its contracts for selling excess property are in place for several more years and cannot easily be changed, GSA officials said.

Because the sale of real property, such as land or buildings, already is largely centralized around three agencies -- GSA and the departments of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development - those sale centers did not go through the same formal selection process administered for the personal property sale centers. But their property sales offerings will be included on the Federal Asset Sales Web portal.

The list of sale centers may grow to include other agencies and private sector companies, said Becky Rhodes, GSA's deputy associate administrator for the Office of Travel, Transportation and Asset Management.

The time-line for migrating to the centralized sale centers has not been established, but GSA officials anticipate agencies will make the switch within the next year or sooner.

"If OMB has their way it would be less, but realistically I think it takes a while for agencies to sort of change what they're doing," said Chris Fornecker, program manager for Federal Asset Sales.

All four centers will report what they are selling to the Federal Asset Sales-run Web portal that has yet to be named, Fornecker said.

"Our near-term plan is to focus on making it easy for citizens to find things that the government has for sale," said Fornecker. "So a citizen could come online and search for a 1957 Chevy for instance, and it'll tell that citizen all the '57 Chevies that the government is selling."

The Web site is intended to act as a way to advertise the items for sale, but the actual transactions will take place within the sale centers.

The original plan for Federal Asset Sales was to provide agencies with all the services necessary for selling excess property, including advertising, storage and transportation. But that approach was found to be faulty, Fornecker said.

"We're dropping back and taking a more modest approach that is patterned after what has been done in these other lines of business," Fornecker said. "If it were created today, it would be called a line of business."

Federal Asset Sales is funded solely by GSA at an average of $2.5 million annually, and the service centers will operate using agency funds and the fee-for-service model.

Fornecker said officials are hoping to reduce the Federal Asset Sales program management office overhead by 50 percent, down to a couple of staffers and some contractor support.

One of the program management goals is to collect and publicize performance data from the sale centers so agencies can compare prices among them.

GSA hopes to be able to know the number of assets disposed of on a quarterly basis, the value of those assets, the type of assets and how the amount received for them compares to their market value.

By Daniel Pulliam

August 23, 2006