TAUNTON, Mass. — In his pursuit of a bargain for taxpayers, Edward Aleixo has flown into the mountains of Virginia to retrieve an old pickup truck with bad tires and no rear lights, and he drove it home to Massachusetts.
He has wangled his way into government vaults and come out with an Oriental rug Henry A. Kissinger could not use, and procured shelving and two office cubicles discarded by the White House.
Aleixo, a retired Air Force colonel, former narcotics agent and one-time school superintendent, makes big deals too.
As director of the Massachusetts State Agency for Surplus Property, Aleixo is trying at the moment to get his hands on 12 used helicopters no longer wanted by the Army in Ft. Rucker, Ala., so he can give them to state police and a flight school in Boston.
Note the word "give."
Relatively Small Price
Alexio insists that he does not sell a thing he brokers. But for a relatively small price that covers the cost of his operation, Aleixo obtains surplus federal property and passes it on to state and municipal governments, schools and nonprofit organizations such as nursing homes and halfway houses.
A relatively small price?
How does $150 sound for a $1,840.56 medical centrifuge (like new)?
Or $2,500 for a used $200,000 road grader?
The 9-by-12-foot Kissinger rug was a gift from Algeria that the then-secretary of state could not accept. It now warms the toes of some Massachusetts government official, a bargain at $150.
Every state has a surplus agency, under a law Congress enacted after World War II to make sure that the states shared in the federal leftovers. Customers are restricted to government entities, educational institutions and nonprofit health agencies. There are 1,800 certified customers around the country.
In Massachusetts, there's a twice-yearly junkyard sale, but otherwise Aleixo's warehouses are closed to the public. His customers say access to the surplus stuff helps.
"It's tremendous," said Brian Broderick, who for 15 years has been buying surplus goods for the Metropolitan District Commission, an agency that oversees highways, sewers and other projects that cross jurisdictions in the Boston area.
Government surplus kept the commission rolling a decade ago while the agency waited for a bond issue to buy new vehicles. For instance, tractor-trailers were supplied for a song: $5,000 apiece for a set of four that would have cost $65,000 each new.
The Metro Police command bus, a headquarters on wheels, was once a NASA mobile tracking station. "We paid no more than $1,000 for it. A nice piece of equipment that would have cost us $55,000 to $60,000."
"This is the cheapest way the government has of getting rid of its property," Aleixo said. "Most of the money goes back to the taxpayer."
Customers pay about 3 cents on the original dollar cost to the government. Even so, Aleixo's self-supporting operation is in the red trying to cover its $450,000 annual operating costs, including a staff of 12. Since the late 1970s, federal agencies have become more economy-minded.
"That is good, but there's a point where it's more cost-effective to buy something new" rather than fix the old, Aleixo said.
He reckons that the state government saves $1 million a year picking through his warehouse. The assorted other customers save $5 million to $6 million.