Pilot to Privatize Commissaries Should Be Postponed, Inhofe Says

A proposal to privatize five commissaries under a two-year pilot program should be stripped from the Senate version of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, according to a commentary by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) published in Military Times.

Congress should complete an evaluation of the feasibility of privatizing military grocery stores before launching a pilot program, writes Inhofe, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

“Privatizing military commissaries before conducting an assessment of the costs and benefits of such significant reform is irresponsible,” he states. “I want to know the cost and savings as well as the risks and benefits associated with privatization before any action is taken,” Inhofe says.

Inhofe and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) have introduced an amendment to the annual policy bill that would prohibit the privatization pilot until an assessment of the potential impacts of privatization on military families and veterans has been finished.

Inhofe said that 22 senators support the amendment, which would need a majority to pass the chamber. At this point, thought, it’s not clear if the provision will secure a floor vote. The Senate has made little progress on the authorization bill since lawmakers began debate June 3. 

The measure, S. 1376, calls for DOD to develop a plan to privatize the Defense Commissary Agency, wholly or in part. It also directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess the potential costs and benefits of privatizing the entire network of commissaries and determining whether any barriers exist to privatizing the commissary system. The bill directs DOD to carry out the pilot test of privatization after the GAO study.

Inhofe has a lot of support. More than 40 organizations have endorsed the amendment, and the White House has criticized the Senate plan as well.

“The administration has concerns with commissary privatization and the willingness of private sector entities to participate in such a project,” the Office of Management and Budget said in its response to the Senate bill before lawmakers began debating on the floor two weeks ago. OMB said it favored waiting for an independent study already under way to determine whether privatization is feasible before making any policy changes.

Commissaries offer military families a savings of 30 percent off their groceries on average, and also provide jobs for the families of service members, Inhofe argued.

“Together we can halt this policy that has the potential to force thousands of service members and their families to be part of an experiment that will have no congressional review before implementation,” Inhofe concluded.

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