Monday, December 22, 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

Christmas comes early to San Marco Street park

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Travis squadron delivers Christmas gifts to East Tabor

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

How this chunky Wade met Chunky Wade

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Multiple car accident blocks I-80 in Vacaville

By Glen Faison | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Solano Kwanzaa celebration set for Vallejo return

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Lawyers off free legal advice in Fairfield

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
 
Kitchen fire dislocates family for Christmas

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4 | Gallery

Famous Creations’ toy drive and cupcake sale

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Last-minute shopping at Vacaville Premium Outlets

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

Fairfield police log: Dec. 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Suisun City police log: Dec. 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Weather for Dec. 22, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: B10

 
.

US / World

Killer of 2 NYC officers had long criminal history

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Killings of 2 New York officers trigger backlash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

California puzzles over safety of driverless cars

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Timeline of events before and after NY cop deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

A look at the 2 NYC officers killed in ambush

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
What’s being said about killings of 2 NYC officers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Pakistan makes arrests in Taliban school carnage

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Florida authorities say 1 police officer shot and killed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Tent city sprouts in shadow of downtown Detroit

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
US mulls putting NKorea on terrorism sponsor list

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Satanic Temple puts up display at Michigan Capitol

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Australian woman charged with murder of 8 children

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Exit poll: Ex-regime official is Tunisia’s new president

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
.

Opinion

Faust and the 2015 federal budget

By Mike Kirchubel | From Page: A8

 
Obama, surgeon general still losing to NRA

By Francis Wilkinson | From Page: A8

Let the music begin

By Colleen Britton | From Page: A8

 
Editorial Cartoon: Dec. 22, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Dec. 22, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Dec. 22, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: Dec. 23, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
 
Horoscopes: Dec. 22, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
‘Hobbit’ goes out on top with $90.6 million 5-day debut

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Good news from Tom Brokaw: His cancer is in remission

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Review: ‘The Interview’ deserves to be seen

By Jake Coyle | From Page: B7

Happy day: Elton John, David Furnish marry in England

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
TVGrid Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

.

Sports

Kings snap 5-game losing skid, beat Lakers 108-101

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Burns gives Sharks late-night win over Blues in OT

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

The Week Ahead: Not much of a break for Christmas

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1

 
Steelers, Packers win, move into playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Raiders knock Bills out of playoffs with 26-24 win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Super-G crash makes Vonn wait in bid for record

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

NFL Roundup: Cowboys end 4-year drought, make playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
7 hurt when lightning strikes near Tampa Bay game

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

India’s Arjun Atwal wins Dubai Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Documents: FSU QB Winston cleared in conduct hearing

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

.

Business

US companies eager to embrace Cuba face hurdles

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Survey: US gas prices fall 25 cents per gallon

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Obituaries

Marian Kay Zutz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Bart Ferro

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Wizard of Id Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Zits Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Pickles Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Rose is Rose Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Beetle Bailey Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Dilbert Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Crossword Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Cryptoquote Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Sudoku Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Bridge Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Word Sleuth Dec 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Blondie Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Beetle Bailey Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Garfield Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

B.C. Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Wizard of Id Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

For Better or Worse Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Get Fuzzy Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Baby Blues Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Baldo Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Zits Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Peanuts Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Dilbert Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Sally Forth Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Pickles Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Rose is Rose Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Frank and Ernest Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Word Sleuth Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Crossword Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Sudoku Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Cryptoquote Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Bridge Dec 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7