When the U.S. Army Audits Group, now located in the Pentagon, was asked by the Defense Department to relocate, it told federal leasing experts at the General Services Administration that the replacement space had to be in Northern Virginia.

For GSA, that was a tall order because, unlike in the District or suburban Maryland, the agency is short of office space in Northern Virginia.

Seventeen firms have told GSA they have the requisite 23,600 square feet of office space available. These firms were given until March 18 by GSA to submit formal bids.

"Obviously, with all the vacant space we have in the District and Maryland, it would be financially practical to put them there," said Doug Foster, chief of GSA's Virginia leasing unit. "But it's their choice, not ours."

But Richard O. Haase, commissioner of public buildings, said none of the proposals was acceptable, and he told the Army that GSA is committed to utilizing the vast amounts of vacant leased space in the District before it goes out on the market for new space. "That's my job," he said. "My directives have been to fill up the lease space that is vacant, and I'm not going out on the market for new space unless there's a security requirement."

Haase said the Army's justification for staying in Virginia was based on "the reluctance to travel over the bridges into the city." That was "absurd," he said.

GSA chief Gerald P. Carmen has decided to sell to the highest bidder a controversial piece of real estate in downtown San Francisco in an effort to "protect the image" of his agency.

GSA will seek bids today to April 26 on a 1.1-acre property at 49 4th St., which contains a condemned 11-story federal building and its five-story annex.

Since both building were closed nine years ago, the City of San Francisco has sought to include the property in its massive Yerba Buena Gardens urban redevelopment project.

Carmen at one point had agreed to sell the $17 million property to the city, but after a House subcommittee accused Carmen of pressing the deal because Marriott Corp., a major Republican Party contributor would use the lot for a convention center hotel, it was canceled. Carmen then said he would sell the land to the city only if the House committee that oversees federal land deals verified that doing so was not improper.

"It's been two months, and we've heard nothing," Carmen said. "So I decided it would be best to sell it." That way, no one can charge impropriety, he said.