Is federal surplus a waste of taxpayer money?

Is federal surplus a waste of taxpayer money? »Play Video
This Unimog has hardly been driven. It only has 761 miles on it.

SALEM, Ore. – When the federal government has a surplus, they sell it to local governments and nonprofits. The warehouse charges a commission to the buyer to cover overhead.

There is a huge government surplus warehouse in Salem.

“It’s like a federally funded financial aid,” says Darren Kennedy, who recently gave KATU a tour of the warehouse. “It’s items that are very expensive that they are making available at a fraction of the cost.”

The place is full of things that the feds just bought too much of, and there is also used items that still have value.

“(There are) a lot of fire extinguishers, evacuation sleds (and) tool boxes full of tools,” Kennedy said, naming just a few of the items in the warehouse.

The warehouse also has instruments from military bands.

“We try to get as many instruments as we can get our hands on because schools are just clamoring for inexpensive instruments,” Kennedy said.

The warehouse also has more than a dozen computer monitors that were once used at the recently closed Umatilla Chemical Depot.

“They were being used by personnel … and (they) didn’t need them anymore. So they came to us,” Kennedy said.

There are brand new engines for various vehicles that will sell for pennies on the dollar. And there is even a Unimog that has barely been driven. It only has 761 miles on it.

So is this federal surplus a waste of your tax dollars?

Say the federal government buys a pair of army boots and doesn’t need them. They donate the boots to the surplus warehouse who then tries to sell them to the state, local agencies and nonprofits for a small commission. If there are no buyers, the warehouse will auction the boots online and split the profits with the federal government.

“To get a fraction of what they originally paid – yeah, that sometimes doesn’t sit well with me,” Kennedy said. “But that’s what I’m here to do (to) try and make sure local agencies take advantage of that.”

He said more government agencies should be taking advantage of the warehouse.

Many governments in Oregon, in fact much of the state, is required to look here first when making purchases.

“So you have this buy decision where you go down this list and say, ‘they don’t have it.’ Then you go down to the next thing, and they don’t have it. Then you go down to the next thing. And surplus property is right at the top of that list.”

They also sell state property online. Last year, they made $5.1 million in sales, returning $3.6 million back to the government.

But if more government agencies looked here first – before buying new – the return to you might be even greater. Because you paid for it.

Have a "You Paid For It" story idea? Email it to Steve Dunn at steved@katu.com.