Joint Chiefs Split over Wisdom of Slashing Commissary Subsidy

In a break from the support for the administration’s budget request typically expected from senior Pentagon leaders, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. John Amos during a Senate hearing last week criticized the plan to reduce annual federal subsidies for military grocery stores by $1 billion over three years.

The plan is projected to cut average savings for shoppers from 30 percent to 10 percent.

“That’s a 66 percent drop in savings for my Marines. I don’t like that,” Amos told the Senate Armed Services Committee, reported Stars and Stripes. “The commissary issue itself is radioactive,” said Amos, who testified along with the six other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Amos didn’t rule out lowering the commissary benefit for military families, but urged the Defense Commissary Agency to find ways to operate more efficiently to preserve the benefit for service members. 

Navy Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, meanwhile defended the belt-tightening proposal, which calls for trimming $200 million from the subsidy in fiscal 2015. The reduction in discounts is not intended to be as steep as the cut in funding, as officials believe the stores should be able to find operational efficiencies.

The proposal does not call for any stores to close, Winnefeld emphasized. But “there are probably situations where you might close one or two,” he said, according to the story.

The plan is “a heck of a lot gentler than it looks.”

On May 7, the day following the hearing, the House Armed Services Committee approved only a $100 million reduction in the commissary subsidy in its markup of the FY 2015 defense authorization bill.

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