The General Services Administration, facing a new era of Internet sales and increasing competition from office supply stores, will close its eight supply centers, eliminating as many as 2,000 jobs, GSA officials announced yesterday.

The closings, intended to streamline the manner in which the GSA sells office supplies and equipment to federal agencies, include a facility in the Franconia section of Fairfax County, where as many as 100 jobs will be eliminated.

The supply center in Burlington, N.J., and smaller "supply points" in Franconia; Auburn, Wash.; Chicago; and Denver will begin to close in mid-October. Over the next nine to 18 months, supply centers in Stockton, Calif.; Palmetto, Ga.; and Fort Worth will begin to shut their doors, agency officials said.

GSA Administrator David J. Barram described the closings as a painful but much-needed step to bring the GSA's Federal Supply Service (FSS) into the modern world of ordering over the Internet and office superstores that are increasingly the source for federal agencies, which are no longer required by law to purchase supplies from the GSA.

"This decision has been very hard," Barram said. "However, in the last 14 years, sales trends have been declining. . . . Fewer and fewer of our customers need to shop at our distribution centers."

Instead, Barram said, more and more agencies are choosing to bypass the GSA by purchasing supplies through such commercial superstores as Staples and Office Depot, which can offer competitive prices based on their huge inventories.

Under the new "virtual platform" envisioned by Barram and other GSA officials, federal agencies will do the bulk of their supply shopping online at the GSA's Web site, instead of through traditional phone orders to the supply centers. The GSA will keep a much smaller inventory--though officials did not indicate where--eliminating the need for the supply centers and trimming overall costs.

The GSA also plans to expand its "supply schedule" contracts with commercial vendors, under which the GSA negotiates prices and agencies order directly from the vendors either at the negotiated GSA price or a lower one.

The total number of jobs eliminated by the closings could rise to as high as 2,000 including on-site and support staff, the GSA said. But agency officials stressed yesterday that they hope the actual number of displaced employees will be much lower. Some employees will move to different jobs in the GSA or elsewhere in government, officials said.

While refusing to guarantee that some employees won't find themselves without work, GSA Chief People Officer Gail Lovelace said the agency will attempt to smooth the transition.

"Our promise to employees is that we are going to do everything that we can to help them make the right decision for them," Lovelace said. "For some employees, we will find jobs. Many other employees may choose to retire. We will also offer buyouts if we possibly can." She acknowledged, however, that the GSA currently does not have the authority to offer buyouts.

Some of the affected employees may have a harder time moving into new jobs than others. Sixteen workers, including eight at the Franconia location, are blind and participate in special placement programs.

Beverly Milkman, director of the Committee to Purchase, an independent federal agency that sells office products made by the blind or disabled to the GSA, lamented the closings but said the blind employees have at least acquired some skills that may help them find new jobs.