Uniform Costs Not Footing the Bill for Bosnia
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va., Sept. 11, 1998 Claims that DoD quietly boosted clothing sales store prices to pay for the Bosnia operation and other missions are false, according to a senior military officer who helps set prices.
A study by the Military Uniform Task Force alleged that DoD intentionally tacked on "surcharges" to uniforms and other clothing items to help fund Bosnia operations. The task force, which was established in 1996 at the recommendation of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, also said service members continue to be overcharged for uniforms to support other DoD operations.
"That's not accurate at all," and "that just didn't happen," are the reactions of Army Col. Will Stormer, the deputy comptroller for the Defense Logistics Agency.
"There weren't any uniform costs that paid for Bosnia in 1997 at all, or any other year," said Stormer, who is one of the key people involved in setting the prices service members pay for their uniforms.
Nor is it true, he added, that service members continue to pay higher prices to support other DoD operations.
In addition to refuting the report's accuracy, Stormer took special exception to use of the word "surcharges" when discussing uniform costs. He said uniforms are priced to recover all the costs associated with getting them on the shelves in clothing sales stores and that so-called surcharges do not exist. Uniform costs include materials and labor, transportation, storage, and management overhead, just like any civilian store, he explained.
"Of course, in our case, we don't get a profit. We just price to recover all the costs of getting that item to sale," Stormer said.
Occasionally, however, the uniform fund does see an unintended profit because of the long lead time required for ordering and supplying uniforms. Stormer explained that uniform prices are set about nine months in advance of the next fiscal year, and must include an inflation factor.
"This is more of an art than a science," he said, "because these costs are not known exactly nine months ahead of time. If that estimate is high, then a profit is generated inadvertently. Then those profits are returned in the form of lower prices the following year. If the full cost is not recovered, then unfortunately the prices have to increase the next year, because the objective of the operation is to break even."
For example, Stormer said service members saw a slight increase in uniform prices in fiscal 1998 to make up for previous year losses. However, the logistics agency is predicting lower operational costs in fiscal 1999.
"That should be reflected by lower shelf prices in the clothing sales stores," he said.
Through many initiatives now under way within the logistics agency, including new ways of contracting, tracking and delivering items to customers, Stormer said he hopes uniform prices will continue to fall in the future.
"This is a very sensitive item for all of us," Stormer said. "As a soldier, I want these costs to be as low as possible from a personal interest as well as from a professional one. I have the responsibility here to do my part in getting these costs as low as possible."
"There's a lot of effort being made in that direction," he said. "We hear the voice of our customers loud and clear, and we're trying to respond to them."