Federal officials are planning to try an old-fashioned barter with the city of Alexandria: exchanging one piece of property for another.

As part of the Reagan administration's plan to better utilize federal properties, the General Services Administration has decided that it does not need the old Ford Plant warehouse on the Old Town waterfront to store government forms and house a motor pool.

But rather than try to sell it to Alexandria or the highest bidder, GSA Public Buildings Commissioner Richard O. Haase says it makes much more sense to make a swap with the city for an equally valuable warehouse away from the waterfront.

"All that the city needs is the deed and one day we'll simply trade," Haase said. "Such a deal would be in the best interest of the city and the federal government."

"It's something we'd want to look at," said deputy Alexandria city manager Cliff Rusch. "It sounds much better than forking over $15 million. It opens up a number of kinds of possibilities."

Dayton Cook, director of transportation and environmental services, said the city has no equal value property that is surplus that could be offered, however.

But Haase said that one thing Alexandria could do is to get a developer who has, or would buy, a comparable parcel and give it to the city for the exchange. The developer could then have a significant stake in the use of the waterfront property.

"We don't want a developer who would put more development on the site than would be compatible with the needs and desire of the community," Cook said. "But we could control that with zoning. It's an option."

Haase has submitted paperwork that would allow him to negotiate a barter to GSA administrator Gerald P. Carmen.

City leaders originally said they wanted the 11-acre property in the shadow of the Wilson Bridge free under federal discount conveyance laws, but under the Reagan administration, those programs have been drastically scaled back.