For the last few years TREA has been warning that the commissary benefit is in danger of going away.
Back in 2011 the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to combine all base exchanges and commissary operations everywhere into one for-profit retail business. While that did not come to fruition it began the attacks on the commissaries by some key members of Congress who have complained about the taxpayer subsidy of the commissaries.
Those attacks kept getting stronger until a couple of years ago when DeCA, the Defense Commissary Agency, was forced to take measures to change how commissaries are operated in an effort to try and save the benefit.
Some of those changes are now in place and DeCA is hopeful they will allow the taxpayer subsidy to be reduced. However, DeCa has told Congress that it is not possible to eliminate the subsidy entirely and still save the benefit.
That's why a new report is so troubling. According to military columnist Tom Philpott, commissary officials have said that on-base sales at commissaries fell six percent last year, which continues a trend that began in 2012. Sales have dropped a total of 21.3 percent since then.
According to Philpott, "The worry is that falling sales leave commissaries open to criticism that they're losing relevancy as a military perk, or becoming too costly for taxpayers to support, given the fierce competition for customers from commercial grocers."
The fall in sales is ironic because surveys have shown the the benefit is the second most popular one after health care, according to Pentagon officials.
In addition to the benefit itself, commissary and exchange programs are a gift that keeps on giving to the military community- spinning off benefits far in excess of resources that are consumed-tens of thousands of jobs for family members; financing hundreds of millions of dollars in base infrastructure improvements; hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends that support MWR programs; and providing the support and financial base for services and programs for overseas and deployed forces.
DoD has set annual targets DeCA must hit to lower its appropriation from $1.4 billion in 2017 to $400 million by 2021. Military leaders have testified they want that that billion dollars in savings to applied to more critical readiness needs.
DeCA's target for 2018 is to lower reliance on appropriated dollars by $150 million but reaching that goal is likely to be very difficult.
TREA has been very active in the effort to save the commissaries and we will continue to do so. In the meantime, you can help by shopping at your commissary this week and this year and help stop the drop in sales.