Several government agencies sell items to the public through both live and online auctions. These auctions, especially online ones, let you purchase government owned assets, across the country and U.S. owned territories. Agencies sell many types of items, including:
Government agencies have these items for sale for several reasons. Some law enforcement agencies sell the seized or forfeited property of criminals. Other agencies sell items that were forfeited because of nonpayment of federal income taxes. Finally, some of the items are available because an agency surplused them and no longer needs them.
Which Agencies Host Auctions?
You can bid on items that are for sale through several websites:
Many states and even some local governments also sell surplus property. Contact your state to find if it operates an auction program.
Tips for Participating in Government Auctions
The general rule for auctions is that the highest bidder wins, and cancellation is not possible. Find out if you can cancel a bid or not.
Each auction website operates differently. In some cases, the auctions are operated completely by the government agency, while in other cases the agency really only operates the shopping site, but the actual auction is handled by a third party company.
Find out what forms of payment are accepted. There is no uniform payment policy across all the different auctions. Some auctions accept credit card payments or personal checks. Others, such as the Internal Revenue Service, don't accept these forms of payment. Cashiers checks are a widely accepted payment option.
For real estate auctions, you may need to still work with a broker or real estate agent in order to bid or make the purchase. Also, for real estate auctions, find out if financing is permitted. Many times it is not and the full purchase price is due when you win the bid.
Buy Travel Tickets and Documents from the Government
If you plan to travel, within the United States or internationally, you may need to purchase passes or other official documents from the federal government.
If you want to travel in the United States by train, you can purchase tickets from Amtrak. If you plan to visit national parks and recreation lands, you can purchase passes from the National Park Service.
Lands identified as excess to the public's or government's needs are sometimes offered for sale. The land is first offered to other federal agencies and states, and then to the general public.
How to Buy Federal Land
The federal government has two major categories of property which it makes available for sale:
Real property. Primarily, this consists of developed land with buildings, usually acquired by the federal government for a specific purpose, such as a military base or office building. This also includes some U.S. Forest Service properties, which usually consist of administrative sites and facilities. The General Services Administration (GSA) is the federal agency responsible for selling developed surplus property.
Public land. This is undeveloped land with no improvements, usually part of the original public domain established during the western expansion of the United States. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has responsibility over this land.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) owned temporary housing units (THUs) include travel trailers, manufactured housing (mobile homes), and park models. This surplus personal property is sometimes offered for competitive sales to the general public.
Government agencies produce publications that they make available to the public. Some of the titles are available for order in hard copy, while others are available in electronic formats, such as PDFs, and ebooks.
Government Publishing Office
The Government Publishing Office (GPO) is the main government agency that sells government books on a wide range of topics. If you would like to purchase a government publication from GPO, visit their online bookstore. Through this website, you may search by subject, keyword, stock number, or title; or browse the available publications by subject, special values, or special collections. Some publications are available on a subscription basis. Contact the GPO Bookstore for instructions on ordering publications by e-mail, phone, or postal mail. The GPO Bookstore also accepts publication order forms sent by fax or mail. This facility can also assist with bulk orders.
If you want to check on the status of your publication order placed with the GPO, you can contact the agency for any GPO order inquiries. When checking the status of a publication order, make sure you have the necessary information (order number, billing statement, etc.) available when making your inquiry.
Several government agencies and institutions sell souvenirs, gifts, and collectible items through gifts shops and online stores. These stores sell a variety of items, such as clothing, books, ornaments, and artwork. These items often commemorate events in the nation’s history or highlight exhibits, public figures, and their contributions to society.
Each year, approximately 300 public auctions are conducted throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, to sell property forfeited as a result of violations of federal law enforced by the Department of the Treasury or nonpayment of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) taxes.
A wide variety of new and used merchandise is available, including automobiles, aircraft, boats, real estate, jewelry, electronics, clothes, and industrial equipment.