Opinion Your gift guide to the General Services Administration auction website

(Washington Post staff illustration; iStock, GSA)
6 min

According to the General Services Administration, “the US Federal Government owns and disposes of more property than any other entity in the world.”

I know what you’re thinking: Wow! If only I could get my hands on it, that would solve all my Christmas shopping needs! Well, fortunately for you, the General Services Administration has an auction website where you can buy all those things the government has “purchased, used, and no longer needs,” from “Fire Trucks and Fire Fighting Equipment” to “Artifacts, Jewelry and Exotic Collectibles” and everything in between (“Miscellaneous”)!

Unfortunately the categories of “Lighthouses” and “NASA Shuttle/Hubble” did not have any listings this year. But all of the items in the following gift guide were for sale when I checked last week; some may have been auctioned off and their listings taken down, but if you hurry, you can still find a winner!

Cafeteria furnishing package

For the person who is always saying, “I love my home, but I always wish it looked a little bit more like a Department of Veterans Affairs cafeteria” — now, you can finally get that look you’ve been craving! Brace yourself for compliments from all the people who will notice your comely, colorful chairs, your efficient, stackable tables, and three disposal bins with little hands on them. All you need is the trays! A wonderful surprise for anyone in your life who was expecting (reasonably) literally anything else.

Radiological pocket dosimeter

For the dad who has everything! This used radiological pocket dosimeter will possibly require repairs, as parts might be missing or damaged. This means it combines the excitement of a radiological pocket dosimeter with the excitement of a fixer-upper! Your recipient will look at this gift and say, “Not great, not terrible.”

Office chairs, TV cabinet and faux trees

Always wanted to know where you could get a tree that looked like it was fake, but also like it was dying? Now you know! And it’s just $20! As part of a bundle, no less! I cannot stress enough that, although these chairs, TV cabinet and fake trees look inexpensive, they look more expensive than their asking price of $20. Give this to someone who wants to appear to be letting a plant slowly and miserably die without the guilt of actually doing so.

Various medical material

I will be honest, what I like best about this auction lot is the presentation: a set of boxes wrapped up in plastic with a sign taped on them that says “EXCESS” in a font reminiscent of Comic Sans. It contains sleep masks and sock aids, so you could try to pass it off as a spa package.


Who doesn’t want a laser, descriptively labeled “Laser,” with the following additional information: “condition not warranted”? For the person in your life you trust with a laser. To purchase this, you will have to do a lot of ominous-sounding paperwork.

2009 Dodge RAM 3500 (wrecked)

All of those people in car commercials look so happy! Well, just think of the look in your recipient’s eyes when you say, “I got you a Dodge RAM 3500 … from 2009 … that is wrecked … at a GSA auction!” Be sure to say it in that order! The perfect stocking-stuffer, if it is wrecked enough!

Various lengths of wire

I like a straightforward gift, and nothing could be more straightforward than these various lengths of wire. How often have you been sitting around the house, wishing you could build a chicken coop in the most labor-intensive way possible, or knit yourself a small fence, but you did not have the requisite various lengths of wire? This feels like a good gift for your grandpa who is always saying things like, “In my day, we could keep ourselves occupied for months with just a pocket dosimeter and various lengths of wire.”

Flatware: Regular tablespoon

There is something in the fact that the tablespoon has felt compelled to protest this much in its listing — “Yep, just a regular tablespoon!” — that rings alarm bells for me. It did not need to insist that it was just a “regular tablespoon.” It could have said “tablespoon” and I would not have been instantly suspicious. I had no such questions about the soup spoon or the knife or the fork or even the laser, but the fact that this one is labeled “regular tablespoon” is sending me down a rabbit-hole of conspiracy. Just say tablespoon! Why can’t you?

Actually, do not buy this, because I am going to do so myself to find out the truth. “Approximately 35 pieces that include regular tablespoon,” the listing says, making me even more certain I have found a conspiracy. These have been used at U.S. embassies around the world, the listing says! I’m sure they HAVE! Anyway, if I get taken away by the CIA, you will know why.

Photo signed “Best Wishes, USAF Thunderbirds”

This framed and signed photograph of some planes flying by what appears to be Mount Rushmore is a great gift for that someone you know who has actual, specific interests but you have forgotten what they are. It is so specific that it is bound to make the recipient question whether it is, in fact, one of their interests. “They wouldn’t just give me this signed photograph of the Thunderbirds if they didn’t think I was connected to or interested in the Thunderbirds in some way,” the recipient will think, starting to sweat and panic. “Maybe I am interested in the Thunderbirds! Maybe I said something!”

Four miscellaneous items

Some people are easy to buy gifts for. For everyone else, there’s … this lot of four miscellaneous items! They really are very miscellaneous: some sheets, two sweaters and a shirt that says Rensselaer Polytechnic on it! If you want a gift that says “I didn’t know what to get you, and I panicked,” but are too proud to buy a gift card, this is your best bet.

Seven gift cards

Well, if all else fails, you can also get “(1) lot of (7) gift cards.” They’re not to GSAAuctions.gov, but they are Visa — and they’re currently selling for several hundred dollars under face value! You will, however, have to factor in traveling to pick them up from Springfield, Va.

But at the end of the day, they’re also the one (7) item(s) that will make it appear you shopped literally anywhere besides the General Services Administration auction this holiday!