Need to Buy a Barge?
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Pentagon is facing criticism for dumping its investments at a loss. The Government Accountability Office studied the military surplus items. Its study contends that the Defense Department wastes billions of tax dollars buying too many tents, boots and medical equipment, even as it gets rid of identical equipment for pennies on the dollar.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
So if you're in the market for a crane, a submarine door or a barge, the Web site govliquidation.com could be just the place for you. This site takes items that the Defense Department doesn't need and re-sells them. Ben Brown is in charge of technology for govliquidation.com and, as you might expect, he disputes the GAO's charges that the Pentagon is wasting money.
Mr. BEN BROWN (Govliquidation.com): I think they took very small examples, or few examples, and then extrapolated those examples to millions and millions of items. I don't agree with a lot of the stuff in the report.
INSKEEP: What does the market work like in reality, as you see it? And we're making up numbers here, but the Pentagon buys a pair of boots for 50 bucks.
Mr. BROWN: Right.
INSKEEP: It's time to get rid of the pair of boots.
Mr. BROWN: Mm-hmm.
INSKEEP: What do they sell them to you for?
Mr. BROWN: We have a joint venture with the Department of Defense, where we share in the risk, the cost and the revenues. So we do purchase the goods from the Department of Defense, but the real value to the Department of Defense is we run a commercial venture, and as such, as a private company, make a profit and return the vast majority of that profit to the government.
INSKEEP: These $50 boots...
Mr. BROWN: Yeah.
INSKEEP: ...you might buy them for $5, try to sell them for $10, and if you do, you're going to give part of the profit to the Pentagon along with their 5 bucks?
Mr. BROWN: Correct.
INSKEEP: The Department of Defense has well over a million employees. They spend billions on equipment. They must have a lot of stuff to get rid of from time to time.
Mr. BROWN: Yes. It's millions of line items a year. It is one of the largest reverse logistics operations in the world.
INSKEEP: Reverse logistics--that's what they call it?
Mr. BROWN: Yes, that's the industry catchphrase.
INSKEEP: (Laughs) You're de-supplying people.
Mr. BROWN: Exactly.
INSKEEP: I'm looking at some pages that we printed out from your Web site, and they're just different categories of things that you might sell, surplus items: aircraft, gliders, airframe structural components, gasoline, reciprocating engines, aircraft and components--space vehicle launchers? You ever sold a space vehicle launcher?
Mr. BROWN: I don't remember ever selling a space vehicle launcher. It probably doesn't have a very large buyer base if we did.
INSKEEP: It says you've got a piece of a drone for sale here.
Mr. BROWN: Yes. We've actually sold several robots. The last one was about a year ago, and it was a robot used for training, and it went, as I remember, to a school system in the Midwest.
INSKEEP: Do you get to look at this stuff or handle it physically, ever?
Mr. BROWN: We will lot them, inspect them, take pictures of them. The more data we can get, the more value there is to the customer.
INSKEEP: You've got warehouses somewhere.
Mr. BROWN: We have 214 warehouses across the country, spanning from Puerto Rico all the way out to Guam.
INSKEEP: Do you ever just wander around in amazement in those buildings?
Mr. BROWN: Yeah. There is a lot of amazing stuff. The Department of Defense--a military installation is--it's a small city. Some of them are not even that small. They have everything from commercial vehicles to aircraft launchers.
INSKEEP: What are some other unusual items that have passed through your company?
Mr. BROWN: We sold a cavalry horse.
INSKEEP: Living or dead?
Mr. BROWN: Living. And--went to a gentleman whose, I believe, grandfather was in the cavalry and the whole family was cavalry aficionados. Things I never even knew existed, like floating cranes that can lift several tons, a mobile TV station, you know. It had seen its useful life and nobody in the government wanted to reutilize it, and we sold that for the government. That was a very interesting one. Our marketing department kind of--a few years ago, they used to scratch their head, but now they don't even blink when they see things like that. They start digging around, thinking, `OK, who would buy this?'
INSKEEP: Nothing is ever really wasted, is it? That's Ben Brown, who oversees technology for govliquidation.com.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.