Friday, October 31, 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

Real estate agent pens, produces movie

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1, 2 Comments

 
 
Neighborhood candy hunts of the past

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Vintage Fair on tap at McBride Senior Center

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Candy from sky highlights North Texas Street event

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Fairfield police log: Oct. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Oct. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

 
.

US / World

California eyes $500 billion in water spending

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

 
Judge approves Stockton’s bankruptcy plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Marine wants new charges in Iraq war crime tossed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3, 3 Comments

 
Roseville officer accused of criminal threats

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3, 1 Comment

Poll: Democrats leading in all statewide races

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 4 Comments

 
Man charged with murder in SWAT officer shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Teen arrested in threat at Sacramento school

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Police make arrest in slaying of Oakland mom

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Retrial in assault case over stray cat feeding

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 8 Comments

 
Missing California hunter roasted bugs, lizards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

Pilot identified in California jet crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Lawsuit: Surgical gowns let diseases pass through

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Fearing Ebola? Doctors say get a flu shot

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Questions, answers about California’s Ebola policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Maine in standoff with nurse over Ebola safeguards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Relatives suspected poisoning in family’s deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Pair convicted in secret $1.6 M Navy silencer deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Guard troops sent to site of Hawaii lava flow

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Terminally ill woman may postpone taking her life

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7, 2 Comments

 
Man’s own dog helps police bust him on drug charge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Israel closes Jerusalem holy site after shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Fearing uprising, Iraq militants hunt ex-police

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Vatican admits Sistine Chapel frescoes ‘whitened’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Death penalty sought for trooper ambush suspect

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

 
Editorial Cartoons: Oct. 31, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
 
Man’s prosecution unwarranted

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 9 Comments

Are we safe now?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 20 Comments

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Oct. 31, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Oct. 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

My husband sends texts filled with ‘dirty talk’ to an old flame

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscopes: Oct. 31, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

Jorge Garcia makes the most of ‘Hawaii Five-O’

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

 
Week in preview Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Monica Potter wants to save her show ‘Parenthood’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Review: Jake Gyllenhaal, tightly coiled and creepy

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Exhibit on Paul Simon’s life to debut at Rock Hall

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
PBS touts 2013-14 ratings growth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Reality TV show ‘Big Brother’ to debut in China

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
‘The View’ now under ABC News as further revamping

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Review: ‘Sleep’ a decidedly average psych thriller

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Entertainment calendar Oct. 31, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B4

Winter’s wife has blues listening to his new album

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
.

Sports

 
 
Benicia fends off Vanden, 35-21

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B7 | Gallery

New dynasty: Giants capture 3rd title in 5 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Sonoma Raceway to host IndyCar Series finale in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Warriors exercise options on Barnes, Ezeli

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Mack making impact for Raiders even without sacks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Bye week helps 49ers Vernon Davis’ recovery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
This date in sports history for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Prep football capsules: Week 9

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B10

.

Business

Not so sweet: Chocolate prices are set to rise

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Apple CEO publicly acknowledges that he’s gay

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11, 1 Comment | Gallery

FTC accuses Gerber of false claim on baby formula

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
.

Obituaries

Robert Louis Wright

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Oscar Lee Vezeau

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9