Auction action will go online

Auction action will go online

GSA takes its surplus, everything from plants to cigarette boats, to the Net

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The General Services Administration auctioned off about $260 million worth of surplus government property last year, ranging from potted palms to airplanes.

Bidders gathered at warehouses and other government facilities around the country to bid on used and confiscated property passed up by state and federal agencies.

'Junk is not the right word, but [the stuff] has been picked over,' said Don Heffernan, deputy chief information officer for GSA's Federal Supply Service.

'We don't sell weapons,' Heffernan said, but just about anything else is for sale. For example, there are GSA fleet vehicles, camera equipment, office furniture, clothing, jewelry and the occasional cigarette boat taken from a drug runner. Many are good bargains that attract bidders.

'We get a mixture,' Heffernan said. 'There are institutional buyers who are buying for resale, and quite a few Joe Citizens who drop in to see what they can find.'

GSA wants to make it easier for everyone to submit bids online. The agency has chosen network services provider WAMNet Inc. of Eagan, Minn., to host its auction site at

Almost ready

GSA will own the system, which will interface with the existing Federal Excess Disposal System (FEDS). WAMNet will install, operate and maintain the network and storage systems.

GSA hopes to have the online site up and running before year's end. Once it is stable, GSA's list of 100,000 bidders will receive notice that they can begin registering, and the first online auction will be scheduled.

'This should make it easier for more people to participate, so it should drive up prices,' Heffernan said. 'We're not trying to make a profit, we're trying to manage the program with the proceeds.'

Technically, the auction site is a front end to FEDS, but the auction is the tail end of the disposal process.

FEDS runs on a Unisys Series A mainframe and is accessed through the GSA intranet. When agencies list excess property, other federal, state and local organizations can browse the listings to see what they might want.

'If there is anything, we turn the property over to them' at no cost, Heffernan said.

After a time, the remaining property can be sold at auction. The Sales Automation System, a back-office FEDS application, tracks property and sales and handles the financial arrangements.

The auction site was built with Ariba Trading Dynamics software from Ariba Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. The demonstration site on GSA's network ran under Solaris on Sun Microsystems Enterprise 450 and 220 Workgroup Servers, but at WAMNet's data center, it runs on bigger Sun servers with multiterabyte RAID storage.

The connection to WAMNet's high-speed asynchronous transfer mode backbone starts at 2 Mbps and will scale to 2.5 Gbps on demand.

This ability to burst to high bandwidth was a big reason for GSA's decision to go to a third-party host, Heffernan said. Although GSA will not actively market the site right away, the designers anticipate that the first day probably will be a killer.

'Everyone is going to click on the first day,' Heffernan said. On a static Web site, that would not be a big deal, 'but they're going to be doing interactions. We were concerned that no matter how well it worked in the long term, there was no easy way to move into it.'

The agency decided that hiring a third-party host that could handle bursts of traffic made more sense than building a GSA system with the capacity for peak demands.

To the max

The site will host so-called forward auctions, in which multiple bidders can bid prices up on offered property until an auction deadline is reached. Bidders set their maximum bids in advance.

The system will enter the minimum bids, then automatically raise them to meet new offers up to each bidder's maximum.

'We won't be putting everything on the Web in the first year,' Heffernan said. 'A lot of [surplus property] is vehicles, which we will not initially put up at first. We're going to step gingerly.'

Once the site has demonstrated its stable interaction with the FEDS financial back end, the online auctions may begin to feature vehicles and other large items'and possibly surplus real estate, Heffernan said.


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