Bargain Hunters Slurp Up Surplus At Apg Auction

January 06, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Contributing writer

In an out-of-the-way crook of Aberdeen Proving Ground is a collection of warehouses and storage yards jammed with items from machines to tires that Uncle Sam no longer finds useful.

There are smashed-up Plymouth station wagons, camouflage trailers, scientific lab equipment, military uniforms and dozens of personal computers.

Scrap tank parts, 6-foot, 320-watt fans and sophisticated stereo equipment can be found, too.

"We have just about everything here but the kitchen sink," said Audrey Cremeans, a property distribution specialist who is one of 23 people who receive, sort, catalog, distribute and sell the thousands of no-longer-used items returned here frommilitary bases and other national agencies.

"Sometimes we even have the kitchen sink," she said.

Bargain hunters will have a chanceto get their hands on the items Thursday morning when everything from two commercial refrigerators to a meat slicer go on the auction block.

All told 172 items are scheduled to be auctioned.

The auction, conducted by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, is one of about eight each year on the proving ground and one of hundredsyearly throughout the nation.

The Aberdeen office is just one small part of a massive federal bureaucracy -- the Defense Logistics Agency -- responsible for the ultimate disposal and sale of billions of dollars worth of equipment no longer needed by the agencies who originally bought them.

If you've seen ads pitching expensive promises of exclusive information on how to find surplus government goods for ridiculously low prices, this is what they're talking about.

And there is no need to fork over $25 or $30 bucks to some huckster to be let in on the secret -- all of the Defense Logistics Agency's sales are open to anyone older than 18.

"What we do is take everything in, and, with our vast computer system, try and reissue items to other agencies that may need them," said Nettie Insley, chief of the Aberdeen operation. "Many of the items that come through here end up in all50 states and all over the world."

But much of it -- up to a third of all items received, actually -- remains unclaimed. Those items are what are auctioned off every six weeks or so.

In the market fora 25-inch, American-made color television? There are at least three on sale Thursday.

How about a box of surplus sleeping bags? A dozen of them are up for auction.

Each auction usually attracts from 100 to 150 people, lasts about two hours and brings in $15,000 to $20,000, said Insley, who has been doing this kind of work for the government since 1954.

In addition to the local auctions held at 113 Defense Reutilization and Marketing offices throughout the world, hundreds of sealed-bid sales are conducted through the Defense Logistics Agency's surplus sales office in Battle Creek, Mich., she said.

The total amount of money generated by those sales is about $136 million a year, according to Carol Simpson, a spokeswoman in the Battle Creekoffice. All of that money is deposited in the Treasury and is not earmarked for any specific purpose.

"We always have a lot of different things to offer, usually from tanks to toothbrushes," said Vicky Stout, sales representative at Aberdeen. "People keep coming back. They must like what they're getting."

To participate in Thursday's --or any -- auction, call Stout at 278-2235. It costs nothing to participate or bid.

The auction Thursday begins 10 a.m. Payment for items must be made with cash, certified check or money order, and must be paid for within five days of the auction.

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