Al Albert owns a surplus store in Woodbridge and much of his invenstory is literally what government agencies in Washington throw away.
His store contains rows of slightly used desks, file cabinets and swivel chairs rescued from the Lorton sanitary landfills a few miles down U.S. 1.
Albert said he gets merchandise regularly from truck drivers who, upon dropping a load of government trash at one of the dumps, find usable furniture, put it back on their trucks and bring it to his store for a few extra bucks.
"They come here all the time with this stuff," he said. "I've even considered getting a job myself down at the Lorton landfill. I know I could make a real good living with all the stuff they throw away down there."
Albert said he pays the drivers $3 to $5 for an item such as a school desk, then sells it for $19.95.
Business, he said, is good.
Part of Albert's inventory comes from the landfill where trucks dump trash from the U.S. Department of Agriculture building. Employes there say it routinely includes everything from workable typewriters and adding machines to mahogany tables and chairs.
Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland Wednesday ordered an investigation into the department's disposal of surplus office equipment. It followed a Washington Post report that hundreds of dollars worth of usable goods from the department was ending up in the daily trash.
Persons at the Lorton landfills, however, say it is not just Agriculture; everybody does it.
Buddy Braden, who spends dusty days on a 16-ton bulldozer thundering around one of the dumps, said there are treasures in every truck.
"You wouldn't believe the stuff I've plowed under in the six months I've worked here," he said, shouting over the engine of an arriving six-wheeler. "There's all kinds of cabinets and bookshelves and desks and chairs . . . good wood too. I've got a nice oak desk at home, and some of those little chairs that the Alexandria school people dumped a while back.
"Over there, there are thousands of those prepaid envelopes that the [U.S.] Department of Housing [and Urban Development] dumped two weeks ago . . . Just this morning, the Quartermaster Corps dropped a load of furniture too. It's over there, probably about 10 feet under that truck by now."
"One time," Braden said, "the Interior Department brought a bunch of stuff out here -- mostly file cabinets, I think -- but a supervisor got out of the truck and stood there and waited until I covered the whole thing up. He wanted to make sure it was done right, I guess."
Why government agencies throw usable property away is not clear, but many federal employes say it is the easiest thing to do.
Dan Garcia, who said he did inventory for a year with the Social Security Administration in Los Angeles, claims he knows how the system works.
"No one really ever does a good job of it," he said. "Given the large inventory that most government agencies have, it's much easier just to order new stuff when you need something than to go down to storage and find it. Then you just get rid of what you don't need."
Garcia said it is also difficult to follow the General Services Administration's procedures for dealing with surplus merchandise.
"According to the regulations, when you have items you don't need, you are supposed to try and give them to other government or state agencies.
"But the fact is, they have more junk than they know what to do with. And beside, people would rather have a shiny new desk than a used one anyway.
"It was much easier to order new furniture and equipment and say to GSA that no one wanted the old stuff. Then, GSA would call and tell us OK, dispose of it. We would then call a local trash company, and they'd come and haul it away. We didn't care what happened to it as long as it wasn't cluttering up our office anymore."
"This thing really burns me up in a way," said surplus store owner Albert in his Woodbridge showroom. "I mean, all the furniture does help me make a living, but damn, all the money they are wasting. It's our money, money they take out of my earnings. I guess I'm lucky, I get a little of it back."