The price of commissary produce sold in Pacific region stores and the delivery contract are under investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General, officials announced Thursday.
The reviews began in early August as part of an effort to examine produce quality and prices at commissaries in Korea, Guam and Japan, officials said.
Lawmakers requested the audits in a 2017 report that accompanied the House version of annual defense authorization legislation, spurred by a controversy last year when the Defense Commissary Agency switched produce contractors in the Pacific region.
Under the previous contract, taxpayers covered the approximately $48 million price tag of shipping produce to the area. The new plan, however, requires the contractor to cover that bill by encouraging it to source produce locally -- and then pass the remaining cost of shipping on to shoppers.
Since the change, shoppers in those areas have complained that produce prices have increased while selection and quality have deteriorated.
In early December in Guam, for example, prices for pre-washed lettuce rose to $10.69 a bag, though they have since leveled off. A report compiled by congressional staff in early May found an average 52 percent year-over-year price increase in core fruits and vegetables at Yokota Air Base in Japan.
The audit, Inspector General officials said in a Aug. 5 letter to the commissary agency, will investigate whether the new contract and process are better than the old one.
"Our objective is to determine whether the Defense Commissary Agency's new fresh fruit and vegetable local purchase process is more effective than the previous DoD transportation funded process in the Pacific," the document says. "Specifically, we will focus on the cost and freshness of the produce."
The letter, signed by Jacqueline Wicecarver, the DoD's assistant inspector general for acquisition and sustainment management, said the audit process began in Guam.
Commissary agency officials said they are cooperating with the audit process.
"The Defense Commissary Agency welcomes the opportunity to show that the current process of delivering produce to the Pacific is effective and efficient, and we are working with the auditors to answer all of their questions," said Kevin Robinson, a commissary spokesman.