WASHINGTON — Marketing experts and military family advocates Wednesday cautioned against a Defense Department move to create its own private-label items in military commissaries, saying switching from national brands could hurt military morale.
Military families rely on knowing what they are getting when they buy at a military commissary, Brooke Goldberg, a lobbyist for the Military Officers Association of America, told the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel.
The Defense Commissary Agency’s proposed switch from selling national brand items to its own private label products could affect the quality of what is sold, which in turn would alienate military families who support the commissary system, Goldberg said.
“We have found military members consistently rank their commissary benefit very highly, alongside health care,” she said.
The hearing follows the September release of a DoD-commissioned report on the effects of commissary reform. Though Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., argued commissary costs represent only a fraction of total military spending, other committee members like Minnesota Rep. Timothy Walz said there are many ways the current commissary system could be more cost-effective.
Goods at military commissaries are sold at the cost of the good plus a 5 percent surcharge that helps fund commissary operating costs, and these prices are fixed for U.S. military commissaries here and overseas. According to Eileen Huck, a lobbyist for the National Military Family Association, the commissary benefit represents the equivalent of a 2 percent to 9 percent pay raise for members of the military.
Changes in pricing at commissaries not only will hurt military families’ pocketbooks, but could also damage the community military families often build around their local commissary, Goldberg said.
“In rural or low-density regions, like here in D.C., commissaries are places where military families can meet up,” she said. “We risk these changes affecting the other systems that support our military families.”
MacArthur echoed expert calls for caution moving forward with any planned commissary reform, noting that ongoing plans for defense health reform take priority.
“We need to be aware of the compounding effect of too much change at once,” he said.