The Defense Department shortly will issue a request for information from companies with the capability to take over the operation of all or part of the military commissary system.
This initial step by DOD to better assess the feasibility of privatizing commissaries comes at the request of Congress.
“This is a request for information only. It is important to emphasize that NO decision has been made to privatize commissaries and the department is NOT soliciting actual proposals for privatization,” DOD spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson told Military Times via email.
Sakrisson emphasized that the department is committed to preserving the commissary benefit for military members but also is exploring options for reducing the government’s cost of delivering that benefit.
The version of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill the Senate is scheduled to debate this week calls for a pilot program testing privatization at up to five commissaries at major installations, according to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is renewing his effort to slow the test. Inhofe intends to offer an amendment to delay the pilot program until the department completes an assessment of the costs and benefits of privatization.
“There are too many unknowns as to whether privatization could directly impact a military member’s ability to provide for their families as well as the potential for it to affect retention,” he said, according to a press release.
Last year, Inhofe sponsored an amendment to the authorization bill on the Senate floor with Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to postpone a similar pilot program. It was adopted and included in the final defense authorization measure signed into law.
“I am committed to fighting this again on the Senate floor,” Inhofe said earlier this month following a visit to the Altus Air Force Base commissary.
The assessment of the costs and benefits of privatization required under the amendment added last year to the authorization bill is under way, he said. The Senate and House versions of this year’s authorization bill would allow commissaries to introduce variable pricing as well, according to the story.