Monday, September 1, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Joint chiefs divided about cuts to commissary

By
From page B10 | May 11, 2014 |

All seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified Tuesday about the need to slow growth in military compensation and apply dollars saved to underfunded readiness accounts for training, equipment and spare parts.

But their united front for easing current budget burdens cracked over the notion of slashing savings for commissary shoppers.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos called the proposal to cut commissary appropriations, from $1.4 billion yearly down to $400 million within three years, and the projected cut in average shopper savings, from 30 percent down to 10 percent, “a sore point for me.”

“That’s a 66 percent drop in savings for my Marines. I don’t like that,” Amos told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Families don’t either.

“The commissary issue itself is radioactive,” Amos said.

At the same hearing, Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, defended lowering the appropriation for the Defense Commissary Agency in increments, starting with $200 million next year, and suggesting the initial impact at least would be modest.

“We think DeCA can find at least the first-year savings through efficiencies, not price increases, especially since we exempted them from the 20 percent staff cuts that everyone else is taking,” Winnefeld said.

Later, Winnefeld said first-year savings might be achieved if Congress would just repeal a law requiring commissaries to stock only brand names.

It’s a law “apparently lobbied for by the food industry,” Winnefeld said, which “takes money right out of our people’s pockets. It really does.”

Industry sources said brand names do generate higher profits for suppliers but the issue is more complex and less disturbing than Winnefeld implied. Brand-name suppliers can afford to support DeCA with trade offs in store services such as free stocking of shelves and with product promotions.

DeCA provided a statement explaining that commissaries evolved by design into a brand-name system to ensure “worldwide availability of quality, recognizable brand-name products such as Kellogg’s cereals (and) Kraft cheeses.”

A brand name “bestows a known quality assurance that our military families rely upon wherever they serve. Providing food security and a familiar ‘taste of home’ is particularly important for those stationed overseas,” DeCA said.

Though it doesn’t carry generic items, since 2000, DeCA has operated a “best value items” program with name-brand products “equal to or cheaper in price than the private labels found downtown,” the agency said.

Winnefeld assured senators that the budget plan to squeeze commissaries doesn’t order any store closures. The goal is efficiency.

“Whatever they can’t ring out of efficiencies would be a price increase,” he said. “So you might go from the 30-percent claimed advantage (in prices) right now . . . to 26 percent” that first year.

In looking at the competitiveness of stores in each market, 26 percent savings should ensure that most thrive. But “there are probably situations where you might close one or two,” Winnefeld said.

The plan overall, he said, is “a heck of a lot gentler than it looks.”

Winnefeld did not describe the impact on commissaries if DeCA takes a $500 million hit in 2016 and $1 billion hit starting in 2017, as is also proposed.

Amos didn’t either. But he said a better solution to raising prices would be “to force DeCA to become more efficient and figure out how to do it and don’t put that burden on the back of our young enlisted Marines.”

“We don’t need to turn our back” on making commissaries part of compensation reform, Amos said. “But I think we are going at it the wrong way. I think we ought to force DeCA to do some of the things that the services have had to do over the last year to try to live within our means.”

Base exchanges or department stores used to depend on appropriated dollars too, Amos said, but they were forced at some point to be run like businesses. Commissaries should be made to run as efficiently.

What the commandant did not mention, but that resale officials describe often and openly, is that exchanges, because they are run as businesses, deliver a level of savings about half what commissaries do. Indeed, commissary prices are a magnet to bring more exchange shopping.

There were other signs in the hearing that the Joint Chiefs were out of their comfort zone in discussing the military retail store system.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, tried to sum up what he just heard on the commissary plan from Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, JCS chairman, and from Winnefeld, whom Dempsey said “did most of the heavy lifting” on the issue.

“You would like to get efficiencies out of the system” and you believe DeCA “can generate these efficiencies,” Reed said. If DeCA can’t, “then they are going to have to curtail some of their operations.”

Given that, Reed asked Dempsey, have you “thought about a criteria for curtailment . . . something other then, ‘We’ll get some efficiencies’?”

“We have, sir,” Dempsey said, “and I will tell you that commissaries have been the most difficult issue to wrap our arms around because it’s very difficult to understand the functioning of the commissary and the effect that a reduction in the subsidy will have until you make the decision to do it.”

That’s why, Dempsey said, the first cut would be only $200 million. Even senior enlisted advisors, he added, “say, ‘Let’s see what happens. Let’s see how much efficiency we can ring out of it in order to gain some savings.’ ”

Because if “left unaddressed,” Dempsey warned, “we will be providing $1.4 billion in perpetuity” to subsidize grocery shopping, “and that just doesn’t seem to be a reasonable course of action.”

A day later, the House Armed Services Committee voted for only a $100 million cut in commissary funding in 2015. Its chairman, Rep. Harold “Buck” McKeon, R-California, said he rejects increasing out-of-pocket costs for service families.

But McKeon, whose family once ran a popular chain of cowboy clothing stores, also said he knows “efficiencies can be made that reduce the cost of the program without increasing prices.”

Send comments to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120, email milupdate@aol.com or tweet @Military_Update.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 5 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Jane DoeMay 11, 2014 - 1:12 am

    Of course the Joint Chiefs are talking about something completely outside their comfort zone. I'd bet it's been a decade or two since they set foot in a commissary to do their own shopping. They have no idea how the average military family goes about their business.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • RhondaMay 11, 2014 - 8:56 am

    Or go into the BX where prices are so inflated it's cheaper to go downtown, even with no tax!!! It's about 30% more at the BX!!! Gas on base??? Yea, no. It's at least 5-10 cents more All the time!!!! AAFES is Congresses play pool, has been for YEARS!!! AAFES= Army Airforce Forget Every Servicemember.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Dave ShreeveMay 11, 2014 - 10:25 am

    I don't know where you are finding cheaper gas prices of 5 - 10 cents than the base gas station. It might not always be the lowest, but I have never seen it as high as you claim. BX prices are generally competitive with off base, occassionaly higher, normally cheaper. My complaint with the BX is lack of selection.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich GiddensMay 11, 2014 - 10:27 am

    Commissary prices at Charleston AFB are a heck of a lot cheaper then Travis AFB's commissary prices! The prices are set to be no better then the local community's WalMart or WinCo's! Larry's Produce stand has much better fruit and veggie prices then any of them too!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich GiddensMay 11, 2014 - 10:29 am

    This high priced crime ridden locale is no place for military retirees, that's for sure! Better deals are in other low cost, low tax states that respect their citizens.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

 
Highway 12 project nears completion

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

‘Snail mail’ still kinda cool

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
 
Car club raises funds, supplies for SPCA

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3

 
Democrats plan candidates meet, greet

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3

Stand Up 2 Cancer Viewing party set in Vacaville

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Senior center schedules discussion on senior travel

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Local government schedule meetings

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Premier post details of new lease

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

 
Il Fiorello to host jazz event

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

 
New doctors join NorthBay

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

Goodwill opens Outlet Store in Fairfield

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Fairfield economic team announces addition

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7, 4 Comments

Small earthquakes shake Solano

By Glen Faison | From Page: A9

 
.

Opinion

Editorial Cartoon: Sept. 1, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
 
Whopper of a tax dodge for Burger King

By Mike Kirchubel | From Page: A8, 7 Comments

Is social media enlarging or stifling democracy?

By Cynthia M. Allen | From Page: A8

 
Compromise on Cordelia Road rail crossing costs

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 3 Comments

Justice for all

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 4 Comments

 
Good job, Susan Winlow

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

.

Living

Community Calendar: Sept. 1, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Sept. 1, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Is my husband right when he says men aren’t made for monogamy?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Sept. 1, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes: Sept. 2, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A5

 
5 takeaways from a punch-less summer box office

By Jake Coyle | From Page: A11

Joan Rivers’ daughter: I’m keeping fingers crossed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

.

Sports

Source: 49ers OL Boone agrees to new 2-yr deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
49er Ray McDonald accused of domestic violence

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

Kahne holds off Kenseth to win Atlanta shootout

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Wozniacki outlasts Sharapova, in US Open quarters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Falcons looking to be defensive

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Otto wins Italian Open; Gallacher comes up short

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Weather for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

Henley takes a 1-shot lead at Deutsche Bank

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Dunn dealt to A’s, could be his last shot playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Fred Couples wins Champions Tour event

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
A’s frustrated after 8-1 loss caps sweep by Angels

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Ernst wins LPGA’s Portland Classic in playoff

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Giants power past Brewers 15-5 for 3-game sweep

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Down at half, US beats Turkey in basketball worlds

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Source: Chiefs’ Smith agrees to 4-yr extension

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Tony Stewart’s return to race track ends early

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Sam clears waivers, meets with Fisher

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

FC Kansas City wins NWSL title over Seattle, 2-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Raiders claim DE Mayowa off waivers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jensen waived after Jaguars awarded TE Shuler

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
This date in sports history for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Laurie Danielson Bailey

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Hazel Gertrude Wamsley

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Jerry Lee Trammell

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 6 Comments

 
.

Comics

Pickles Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard of Id Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4, 1 Comment

 
Sally Forth Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

For Better or Worse Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Peanuts Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baldo Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Beetle Bailey Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Dilbert Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sudoku Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Crossword Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth Sept 1

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Get Fuzzy Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C. Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baldo Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Garfield Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Frank and Ernest Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Zits Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard of Id Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

For Better or Worse Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sally Forth Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Peanuts Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Cryptoquote Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Sudoku Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Bridge Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Word Sleuth Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Crossword Sept 2

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7