NEW YORK — Even as Internet retailers ail amid the dot-com meltdown, the U.S. government is doing brisk business over the Web, racking up more than $3.6 billion in online sales last year, a new study found.
That tops the $2.8 billion in net sales reported last year by Amazon.com Inc., the biggest online retailing site.
Although Treasury bills, notes and bonds accounted for the vast majority of the government's online sales, federal Web sites hawking horses, homes, toothpaste and much more have been popping up, suggesting the Internet is shaking up the way the government conducts business.
A four-month investigation, conducted by the publication Federal Computer Week and funded by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that the government operates or supports at least 164 sites that sell to the public.
Among those purchasing from the government, the study, released Sunday, listed Lisa Shook of Bryans Road, Md., who bought two wild mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management's Internet auction site (http://www.adoptahorse.blm.gov).
David Gonzales, a carpenter from Oxnard, bought a three-bedroom house previously owned by the Coast Guard via a General Services Administration site (http://www.gsa.gov/pr/prhome.htm).
But the government seems to lack a unified strategy for online sales, the study suggested.
"Yet for all its success in establishing a digital marketplace, the government seems to be going about the job in a haphazard fashion," it said. "The money that dot-gov Web sites bring in is not carefully tracked."