Commissaries Facing New Threat: Privatization

In the latest threat against military grocery stores that have long helped military personnel and their families make ends meet, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to cut this major source of financial relief and hand over the commissaries to for-profit businesses.

Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain of Arizona included in the 2016 Defense Authorization bill two provisions that would require the Government Accountability Office to study the costs and benefits of privatizing the commissaries and require the Defense Department to come up with a plan to privatize the commissaries. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma offered a measure to strike those two provisions, but it was voted down.

The committee members who voted to privatize the commissaries were Sens. John McCain, Ariz.; Roger Wicker, Miss.; Kelly Ayotte. N.H.; Deb Fischer, Neb.; Tom Cotton, Ark.; Joni Ernst, Iowa; Thom Tillis, N.C.; Mike Lee, Utah; Ted Cruz, Texas; Jack Reed, R.I.; Claire McCaskill, Mo.; Joe Manchin, W. Va., Jeanne Shaheen, N.H.; Richard Blumenthal, Conn.; and Angus King, Maine. 

Senator Inhofe has said he will offer an amendment to strike the privatization provision when the defense authorization bill goes to the Senate floor, probably in June. 

Privatization is the latest threat in a series of attacks against military families and workers. The Pentagon has proposed slashing the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA)’s annual budget from $1.4 billion to $400 million over the next three years, forcing the agency to mark up groceries and household goods. This will make commissaries less attractive to customers, which will further reduce DeCA’s revenues and force the agency to cut hours and days of operations.

In addition, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has proposed merging DeCA with AAFES and then converting all DeCA employees to non-appropriated fund (NAF) status. DeCA employees would face a significant pay cut. They would lose their health insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and would no longer be covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System, switching instead to substandard health and retirement plans offered to NAF employees.


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