What is the Future of Base Services Like Commissaries?

The 2014 Installation Innovation Forum will feature an in-depth look at the future of on-base services, like commissaries, as budget pressures force DOD officials to come up with new ways to make their scarce dollars go further. The latest example is a recent request by top defense officials for a plan to close all domestic military grocery stores.

The request to the Defense Commissary Agency is part of the department’s planning efforts for the fiscal 2015 budget request, according to sources in the military resale community.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale and Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, director of force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Staff, reportedly requested the plan in the last few weeks. The next step, expected shortly, is for Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to review the proposal, reported Stars and Stripes.

At this point, it’s not clear whether DOD would include such a plan in the FY 2015 budget request scheduled for release in February. The plan first would need to pass muster with White House officials. And the highest hurdle in actually carrying such a plan out likely would be overcoming congressional opposition.

Still, a DOD decision to explore the possibility of eliminating its stateside commissaries vividly illustrates the measure the department will be forced to consider if deep spending cuts under sequestration continue through FY 2021. Commissaries are a key benefit for service members, saving a family of four an annual average of almost $4,500 as a result of discounted prices approaching 30 percent.

One of the only ways to generate $50 billion a year in budget savings required by the sequester is to take it out of operating and maintenance accounts, military leaders have said. Closing almost 180 military grocery stores could save $800 million to $900 million annually, according to the story.

A DOD spokesman would not confirm whether officials requested a plan to dismantle U.S. commissaries, but said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “has made it clear on numerous occasions that all cost-cutting efforts need to be on the table for [DOD] to meet the spending caps associated with the 2011 Budget Control Act. At this time, no final decisions have been made on the … fiscal 2015 budget submission. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to discuss any specific budget decisions.”

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen

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