It looks like Department of Defense planners may target base Commissaries to reduce annual operating expenses by $1.4B. The DoD’s support for that decision is a 2012 survey in which active duty personnel and military retirees were surveyed to assess if benefits derived, by the members, support the operating expense. The survey results indicate that the overwhelming majority of active duty personnel don’t value base Commissaries; whereas, retirees value them most. The alternative being considered is to provide the members with an annual subsidy of $300, which the survey indicates is preferred by most active duty members.
We have our own opinion, which is based simply on the DoD’s concept. We have not seen the survey nor do we have access to details on the population sample. For example, were spouses or dependents sampled, so it’s hard to say how closely the survey reflects actual service member preference. However, I will say this. As a young enlisted man, I could care less about the commissary, and were I given a choice between a $300 bump, or access to the base Commissary, I would have opted for the cash. Inconsistent with what the survey seems to indicate, I have never been at a base or post where the Commissaries were not crowded with shoppers, so I have to believe the reason is much more than the convenience of shopping on base, and that there is real value derived by the service member and his or her dependents; by way of measurable cost savings. This is a real value to service member families, and to retirees and their dependents. However, this is a benefit that occurs at the point of sale, and prior to paying an annual subsidy to service members and retirees I would explore the feasibility of teaming with the private sector to determine acceptance of a benefits card that a service member or retiree could take to a commercial establishment (Publix, Safeway, Winn Dixie, Wal-Mart, etc.) to be used at check out with a predetermined discount. How that discount is settled on the back end between the business and DoD is something that can be closely managed and negotiated by the DoD. Having a DoD issued benefit card may very well result in greater benefit to the service member and/or retiree with a reduced cost to the Department of Defense.
Edited to add a graphic from the Defense Commissary Agency’s Annual Fiscal Report FY 2013
This is what Commissary Benefits are worth to a military family of four.
We’d love to hear your comments and ideas…