Military grocery stores struggled during fiscal 2013 to cope with cutbacks in funding triggered by sequestration, Joseph Jeu, director and CEO of the Defense Commissary Agency, told lawmakers last week.
Civilian furloughs forced most commissaries to close one day a week for six weeks. A department-wide hiring freeze already had resulted in staffing at two-thirds of the commissaries falling below required levels. As a result, some customers waited in checkout lines for 20 to 30 minutes, Jeu told the House Armed Services’ Military Personnel Subcommittee.
“Customer complaints rose by over 50 percent and hit an all-time high during the furlough,” Jeu said. “While our employees struggled to provide our goal of excellent customer service, they could not always overcome the challenges.”
Jeu told the panel that commissaries are “one of the most valued non-pay compensation benefits our military members, past and present, and their families enjoy,” reported the American Forces Press Service. The commissary benefit, which saves patrons about 30 percent compared to commercial supermarkets, is an “integral element of the total compensation package,” he said.
He warned, though, that further spending reductions will diminish the commissary benefit enjoyed by military personnel. The impact of sequestration “is likely to be considerable,” Jeu said.
His testimony came the same week news reports revealed that top defense officials have asked the Defense Commissary Agency to develop a plan to close all domestic commissaries as part of DOD’s planning efforts for the FY 2015 budget request.