Amendment to block commissary privatization

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) today introduced amendment #4204 to the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prevent the Department of Defense (DOD) from privatizing commissaries at five major installations until a study, requested in last year’s NDAA, to assess the costs and benefits of privatization is completed and properly taken into consideration by Congress.

The following members are original cosponsors of the amendment: Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Barbara Boxer (D-Cali.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), David Vitter (R-La.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Sen. Inhofe in committee

Sen. Inhofe in committee

“Our service members have repeatedly told me and Congress the importance of their commissary benefit, asking us to protect access to and savings at their commissaries,” Inhofe said. “Last year, my Senate colleagues and I fought to block language to privatize military commissaries until a study can take place to assess the impacts, costs and benefits of such drastic action. That study is currently underway, and once it is completed, Congress needs time to thoroughly review and consider the recommendations. This is why our bipartisan amendment to strike Senate language that, once again, prematurely sets into motion privatization is critical and should be given a vote during the Senate NDAA debate. I applaud the 30 Senate colleagues and 41 outside organizations already standing in support of our commissaries, and I urge veterans and military members to speak out and let us in Congress know how this benefit impacts your families’ household budgets and well-being.”

“I’m fighting to protect our commissaries because service members and their families deserve the benefits they’ve earned and a government on their side,” Mikulski said. “Commissaries feed our troops. They help military families stretch their budgets, and they provide jobs to military spouses, teens old enough to work, and military retirees. And commissaries are the military’s most popular earned benefit. With this bipartisan amendment, we will keep commissary doors open to provide low-cost, healthy food to our service members and their families until we’re certain there’s a better alternative.”

InhofeArmy45a“Commissaries are an essential resource for military personnel and their families worldwide. Experimenting with the privatization of such a valuable benefit is the wrong thing to do and places an unfair burden on families who are already sacrificing a great deal,” Boozman said.

“Servicemembers and their spouses rely on military commissaries to buy food and household goods at a fair price,” Brown said. “That’s why it’s so important that the Department of Defense be allowed to finish its assessment on the costs and benefits of privatizing the program. The full impact of privatizing our military commissaries is still unknown, and Congress can’t afford to make changes without first learning how they could strain military families’ household budgets.”

“The commissary is an important benefit for military families that must be maintained,” Burr said. “Previous studies have already found that privatization of the commissary system is not a viable option. The commissary system is just too important for experimentation.”

“Our military members and their families sacrifice so much for our nation. The least the Senate can do on their behalf is to exhibit patience while we wait for results of a study regarding the possible privatization of the commissaries at military installations,” Cardin said.  “It is bewildering why some senators would rush to privatize a service so essential to our military families, who often struggle to make ends meet. My preference is that we focus our attention on how to reward their service to our country with better compensation, more support at home and overseas, and that we do all we can to keep their daily expenses to a minimum.”

AirForce“Commissaries are an important benefit for members of our military, saving the typical family thousands of dollars per year in groceries,” Collins said. “We owe it to our service members, veterans, and their families to prevent further closures or privatization of these vital facilities until the issue can be fully studied.”

“Our service members, military retirees, and their families primarily live on fixed incomes and heavily rely on savings achieved by shopping at commissary stores, especially in high cost of living areas like Hawaii,” Hirono said. “Before we make any major changes to the system, Congress should fully understand how military families would be impacted. I thank Senators Inhofe and Mikulski for leading on this important amendment, and look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure that military families in Hawaii and across the globe get the services they deserve.”

VeteransNative“Commissaries are an important benefit for both military families and veterans. Before we make sweeping changes to the national commissaries, we need to assess the effect of any changes,” Lankford said. “Last year, I supported the NDAA language that required a fact-based assessment, but it has not been completed yet. This amendment will prohibit any changes to our commissaries until the assessment is complete.”

“Commissaries are one of the ways our nation expresses its appreciation to military families and retirees for their service. Like any other government organization we need to encourage efficiencies in the operation of our commissaries, but that does not mean closing stores, cutting hours, or hiking prices,” Murkowski said. “If there is one thing our military families can count on, it is reasonable grocery prices at the commissary wherever they serve. Privatizing our commissaries places the food security of our military families and retirees at risk. It is the wrong way to go.”

“To a military family who already sacrifices so much to protect our country’s freedom, access to affordable groceries and provisions makes a big difference. This is just one simple way we can take care of those who volunteered their lives to protect us,” Murray said. “Commissaries are a crucial part of military life, and when so many of our junior troops rely on food assistance, now is not the time to increase the burden on families just trying to get by.”

“Military families stationed at Ellsworth and at bases throughout the world depend on these commissaries as much as civilian families depend on their local grocery chains and drug stores,” said Rounds.  “Congress should not initiate major changes to the commissary system without fully understanding the impact the changes will have on service members and their families.  The DOD report Congress required last year and which is past due would help achieve that understanding. Our service members and their families make incredible sacrifices so that we can be safe. We owe it to them to make informed decisions about an issue that will impact their daily lives.”

“Military families across the country rely on commissaries to make ends meet,” Tillis said. “We must ensure that any changes to these vital resources do not harm the very people who are already making tremendous sacrifices for our nation.”

“Military commissaries provide our nation’s heroes and their families with an indispensable benefit and more than $4,000 per year in savings on household goods,” Udall said.  “This benefit is all the more important because thousands of service members and millions of veterans rely on food stamps. Any decision as drastic as privatization of commissaries must be properly studied, weighing the cost and benefits of such a decision.”

VeteransMemorial“Privatization could place an undue burden on many of our military men and women and their families, as well as retired service members who enjoy the benefits of military commissaries,” Warner said. “Launching a privatization pilot before careful study on its potential impacts is completed would be wildly premature. This amendment will sensibly prevent such a pilot from being launched until the report that Congress requested is completed.”

Background:
The Senate’s NDAA for Fiscal Year 2016, as passed out of committee on May 14, 2015, included language that sought to launch a pilot program to begin the privatization of military commissaries at five locations. Inhofe and Mikulski authored an amendment that garnered the bipartisan support of 23 Senators and over 40 organizations that sought to protect commissaries from being privatized until an assessment on such action could be conducted. Specifically, the amendment:
• Required a study on the impact of privatization of commissaries on military families before a pilot program on privatizing could be implemented and was to look at modifications to the commissary system, common business processes, privatization in whole or in part, analysis of different pricing constructs, and impacts on MWR programs.
• Required a Comptroller General assessment of the plan no later than 120 days after the submittal of the report.

The amendment was adopted on the Senate floor and included in the final NDAA signed into law by the president.

The requested study is currently underway but has not been completed at the time of this press release. This year’s Inhofe-Mikulski amendment would block language in the Senate bill that, once again, seeks to begin the process of privatization, and would restrict any such action until completion of the study and thorough review by Congress.

The following 41 organizations are opposed to the privatization language currently in the bill:

• Air Force Sergeants Association
• American Federation of Government Employees
• American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Teamsters
• American Logistics Association
• American Military Retirees Association
• American Military Society
• American Retirees Association
• American Veterans
• Armed Forces Marketing Council
• Army and Navy Union
• Association of the United States Army
• Association of the United States Navy
• Fleet Reserve Association
• Gold Star Wives of America
• International Brotherhood of Teamsters
• Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
• Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America
• Military Order of Foreign Wars
• Military Order of the Purple Heart
• National Defense Committee
• National Guard Association of the United States
• National Military Family Association
• National Military and Veterans Alliance
• Military Partners and Families Coalition
• Military Officers Association of America
• National Association for Uniformed Services
• Society of Military Widows
• The American Military Partner Association
• The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits
• The Flag and General Officers Network
• Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors
• The Retired Enlisted Association
• Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees
• United States Army Warrant Officers Association
• Veterans of Foreign Wars
• Vietnam Veterans of America
• Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
• National Industries for the Blind
• Naval Enlisted Reserve Association
• Reserve Officer Association
• Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States
• The American Legion