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Commissaries Streamline to Support Service Members

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 1996 – Re-engineering and streamlining efforts at the Defense Commissary Agency are saving service members and taxpayers money, the agency director recently told members of the House National Security Committee.

Speaking before the committee's panel on Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Army Maj. Gen. Richard E. Beale Jr. said the agency is reducing operating costs and increasing patron savings. He said these efforts will safeguard the commissary benefit for service members and save taxpayer money.

"Our customers have experienced a significant rise in savings," said Beale, referring to a 1995 market-basket price comparison study. "The study disclosed an average savings of 29.7 percent to the commissary patron. That's 6.3 percent more than the last market-basket price comparison study conducted in 1992."

Beale said this means an E-4 with over four years of service, supporting a family of four and doing all grocery shopping at the commissary saves $1,581 per year. "The commissary savings amount to 6.8 percent of their total income, which is money available to this typical military family for other living expenses," he said. "This is what your predecessors designed the commissary to do -- put pay in the service member's pocket!"

Savings to patrons are important, but Beale also emphasized taxpayer savings to those supporting the military's commissary benefit. "From a high of $1,272 million in fiscal 1993, DeCA will have reduced its operating costs to $939 million by the end of fiscal 1997," said Beale. He said reorganizing the agency increased efficiency and reduced costs by eliminating duplication and centralizing contracting, category management, buying, merchandising and distribution.

Beale said recently awarded contracts will modernize commissary business systems -- which include computer-assisted ordering, automated coupon processing and electronic shelf labels.

"Computer-assisted ordering will allow over 90 percent of the merchandise to be ordered by computer," he said. Scanners at cash registers will determine the amount of goods needed to replace when a customer checks out. He said this would replace clerks having to walk the aisles and enter orders manually. The same system can also scan coupons for electronic reimbursement.

Another automation improvement involves installing electronic shelf labels. "In the future, we'll be able to update the prices at a push of a button," said Beale. He told the panel the new system will replace the current practice of printing shelf labels, manually searching the shelves for the correct product and posting the new price label.

While the agency continues to serve its customers, Beale said it also supports commissary workers. Last February, the agency signed a labor agreement with the National Association of Government Employees. "Even though there are 26 separate local store units and one region headquarters unit represented by NAGE, a single labor agreement was negotiated to apply to all of those employees," said Beale. "This was a major first for DeCA."

Beale said the agency also is negotiating an agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees. "Nationwide agreements ensure consistency in commissaries and save time and effort at the bargaining table on the part of management and the unions," said Beale. "We think that these efforts are directly in line with the cooperative relationship envisioned by the president and the National Performance Review."

Beale told the panel the commissary agency maintains good relations with suppliers. Using an initiative called Delivery Ticketing Invoicing, Beale said, suppliers are receiving their payments quickly and efficiently.

With this new method, the receipt accompanying each store delivery also serves as the commissary supplier's demand for payment. In fiscal 1995, the commissary paid suppliers $1.6 billion using this method. Beale expects that number to double this fiscal year.

Beale said the agency adopted Delivery Ticketing Invoicing to end bill-paying problems of the past, not realizing industry would also adopt it as a benchmark. Companies that have tried it agree that electronic commerce makes doing business with the government easier and cheaper, he said.

Beale, slated to leave the agency in September, thanked the panel for its support of commissary programs. "I leave knowing the commissary is in good shape for the immediate future, but I also leave knowing the excitement has just begun," he said.

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