The Senate Armed Services Committee adopted the Defense Department’s proposal to slash funding for commissaries by $322 million as an initial step to scaling back the federal subsidy for military grocery stores, under the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill the panel approved May 14.
DOD’s cost-cutting plan would trim the overall savings for military families and veterans from an average of 30 percent to 28 percent, reported Stars and Stripes. More than half of the savings — representing a 23 percent funding cut for the Defense Commissary Agency — would come from operating efficiencies, including reducing staff, store hours and the days stores are open.
Other changes would help make commissaries self-supporting, such as allowing them to use some of the five percent surcharge collected from customers to buy operating supplies. Those, however, would require congressional action.
The measure also calls for privatizing at least five military commissaries under a two-year pilot program and the Governmental Accountability Office to assess the potential costs and benefits of privatizing the entire network of military grocery stores.
Advocates for military families and veterans say the moves would mark a significant step toward phasing out on-base discounts for service members.
The authorization bill passed by the House on May 15, H.R. 1735, rejected the department’s cost-cutting reforms for the commissary agency.
The Senate bill also accepted DOD’s proposal to reduce increases in the basic allowance for housing so that it covers only 95 percent of housing costs, according to the story. Last year, the final version of the defense policy bill trimmed increases in the allowance by one percentage point as a compromise between the two chambers. The House again this year rebuffed DOD’s plan to trim the increase in the housing allowance.