The federal government yesterday announced that it will sell Camp Simms, a 24-acre tract of surplus federal land in Southeast Washington, to the D.C. government for $1.8 million.

About half of the land bounded by Mississippi and Alabama avenues between 15th Street and Stanton Road SE would be used for a shopping center. The rest would be used to develop housing for the elderly, according to Raymond A. Skinner, D.C. ward-planning chief.

Skinner said the city will seek bids from private developers for a community shopping center "within 60 days of the time that we take control of the property from the federal government."

Earl E. Jones, chief of real property for the federal General Services Administration, said the deed will be transferred by the end of November.

Earlier this year, GSA scheduled a sealed bid sale of Camp Simms as part of the Reagan administration's land sales program, but it backed off after D.C. Mayor Marion Barry argued that the city needs to control development on the parcel, which once housed a D.C. National Guard unit.

"It is beneficial that the city will be able to use and develop this property consistent with the priorities of the local community," Jones said. He said the sale shows how the U.S. government can be sensitive to the needs of communities when it has land it no longer needs.

After submitting a bid Aug. 17, District officials had to wait not only for GSA approval but for a green light from Capitol Hill--all sales not involving competitive bids have to be approved by a House Government Operations subcommittee overseeing the land sales program.

"Generally, we're talking about a center with a major chain grocery store like Giant or Safeway and a drug store along with smaller stores," Skinner said, adding that a task force appointed by Barry and Ward 8 council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark will oversee the development.

Skinner said the city cannot begin soliciting potential developers for the property until Barry receives word from GSA that the deal is complete.

"We have written a letter to Mayor Barry indicating that we accept their offer," Jones said. "The next step is to go to closing in 30 to 60 days--then it's theirs."