Online auction of used government equipment recoups millions every year
Need a bin full of army boots? What about a John Deere tractor that was used by the RCMP Musical Ride?
If you can think of it, chances are the government is trying to get rid of it through their online auction.
GC Surplus is like eBay for old government equipment with all of the proceeds going back to the federal purse.
In 2017, the department sold $60 million worth of used equipment that was deemed no longer useful by the government. As the saying goes, however, one government’s trash is another person’s treasure.
Forty per cent of the items sold from the Department of National Defence. Barracks boxes, boots, tents, sleeping bags and rifle cases are all sold on the site to keep them out of landfills.
“The goal is to minimize the impact of the crown’s use of assets, and that’s [to] minimize the impact financially, so through disposable and goods sale,” said Nicholas Trudel, director-general of GC Surplus. “Minimize the impact environmentally, so if we can divert from landfill that’s always a great outcome.”
GC Surplus sold a 2010 Tesla S for $79,000 after the federal government bought one for emissions testing. The government buys straight from a dealership so that the car is truly randomly selected.
Fleet vehicles make up another large chunk of the sales, with $26 million in cars and trucks being sold by auction last year. Of the 600 vehicles the government purchased for the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, 428 have already been sold.
The government buys so many vehicles because officials know they can be sold by the online auction site with a decent rate of return, and because you aren’t allowed to modify a rented or leased car.
“Often times for emissions testing or security operations use, things are mounted, measurement equipment or radios or sensors or sirens or all kinds of things can be mounted for operational use,” said Trudel. “When that’s done to a leased vehicle, generally the leasing company isn’t so happy about that and there’s a bill that comes at the end”.
The program operates without any base funding from the government and the funds they recoup are enough to pay for the salaries of 80 employees and upkeep of 10 warehouses across the country.
Every week a truckload of items shows up at the Ottawa warehouse. A trio of workers sorts the items deciding which can be sold alone, put into a lot or just discarded.
The highest volume of items that go through the 10 GC Surplus warehouses across the country is office furniture. When government departments refurnish their spaces, the old stuff is sold, often at one lot instead of piece by piece.
“That’s unlikely to gain a high value, so sorting those assets from a room full of chairs or a floor of office furniture, it doesn’t make sense to sort and list individually, because it’s just not going to command the price that would make all that effort make sense,” Trudel told Global News.
WATCH: How eBay has changed buying and selling over 20 years (2015)
That doesn’t bother self-proclaimed reseller Jerome Arsenault. He’s a regular on the site, saying he often looks for items like the lot of 15 hard carrying cases on wheels, which he thinks he can flip to a band or rental company.
He also picked up a pressure washer and a pack of six pairs of winter gloves. The grand total for the cases, washer and gloves? Only $1,000.
“It’s excellent,” Arsenault told Global News. “It’s maybe not for everyone, it takes time and you have to be able to store some of the things.”
Most Canadians likely wouldn’t be able to store the helicopter that was sold this summer for $1.6 million, nor would they have the proper licenses needed before you could even put a bid on it. Those are some of the checks that come with those bigger-ticket items — like the Coast Guard ship that was also sold through the auction service.
“We’re very careful who we sell to in terms of assuring that they’re qualified that the vessel doesn’t become derelict or in an accident as they pull away from the harbour,” said Trudel.
GC Surplus has been around for years, but it’s come a long way from how it started: with a few card tables at the entrance of a warehouse door. People would have to put their bids in envelopes in the hopes of scoring an item from that location.
“We’ve come a long way to online auctions accessible nationally to thousands and thousands of people,” said Trudel.
WATCH: Federal government auctioning off surplus of goods to public