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Plan to Close Stateside Commissaries Coming Soon

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) will be soon writing a plan for closing stateside commissaries at the request of the Defense Department, which is still looking for ways to slash costs in the face of mandated budget cuts.

We put together a fact sheet with everything you need to know about the plan to close the commissary. See it here.

Such a plan could leave military members stationed stateside at bases in remote locations, such as Fort Irwin, Calif., driving long distances for food. Those with local grocery store options outside the gate would be in better shape -- but can still expect to pay around 30 percent more across the board should the commissaries close, especially on products such as meat which are often much cheaper on base than off.

Update 11/26/13: officials now tell us that the plan would exclude over 20 rural stores, including Fort Irwin.

The request, shared with military columnist and benefits guru Tom Phipott by military resale community sources, was made by the DoD's Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale, the department’s top financial adviser, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay, director of force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Staff.

The commissary has long been a subject of scrutiny by lawmakers, some of whom see the grocery benefit as an outdated, unnecessary expenditure. While a 5 percent surcharge on every commissary purchase covers most costs of running the stores themselves, DeCA relies on a $1.4 billion taxpayer funded budget to pay their workers, who are federal employees, at 247 stores worldwide.

Thanks to sequestration DeCA was already required to furlough employees, many of whom are military spouses, for a portion of last year. That left stores closed at least one day a week. But closing the about 180 stateside stores outright could save between $800 and $900 million annually, according to Philpott's column.

And shuttering the stores isn't the only plan in the works. At a hearing Wednesday Tom Gordy, presdient of the Army Forces Marking Council, said DeCA  has already considered other cost saving plans, such as raising the surcharge to 10 percent, allowing the commissary to sell beer, wine -- not currently carried at commissaries -- and health and beauty products at a profit, or increasing the price of all commissaries items somewhere around 2 or 3 percent, Philpott reports.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the source of this testimony as commissary director Joseph Jeu.

Any of those cost savings options, including closing the stores, would have to be approved by Congress and the White House, which may prove difficult.

Would closing the commissaries stateside hurt your family? Would you accept it as a necessary loss if, in the face of deep cuts, closing the commissaries means the DoD can buy bullets and battle gear?

 

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