DoD Cancels Plans to Let Thousands of Civilian Employees Shop at Exchange

A customer shops at NEX Pensacola, Florida.
A customer shops at NEX Pensacola, Florida, December 16, 2020. (U.S. Navy/NEXCOM Public Affairs)

The Defense Department has dropped a plan to expand military exchange shopping privileges to its civilian employees.

An official with the DoD's Office of Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Non-appropriated Fund Policy said in October that the Pentagon planned to expand shopping eligibility to 575,000 employees who don't already have access to the stores.

But a Pentagon official confirmed Wednesday that the plan has been scuttled.

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"The DOD is not pursuing military exchange access for DOD civilian employees at this time," said DoD spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence.

The decision reversal was first reported Monday by Karen Jowers of Military Times.

Addressing the virtual American Logistics Association conference on Oct. 22, Berry Patrick, an official with the Pentagon's MWR and NAF Policy Office, said the policy change was in the works and awaiting approval by the DoD.

The benefit would have given shopping privileges at military exchanges to civilian DoD employees and those who work in non-appropriated funds jobs, according to Patrick. He added that the extension of benefits to this group could increase sales at exchanges by $287 million a year -- income that would increase the amount of funds supporting the military services' MWR programs by $48 million.

During the pandemic, the DoD gave base commanders temporary authority to extend commissary and exchange privileges to civilians and contract employees who were considered mission critical.

Implementation varied from base to base, with "some commanders giving the privileges and others not," according to Patrick, but there was enough interest to conclude that DoD civilians would embrace the benefit.

About 221,000 DoD civilians already have exchange shopping privileges by belonging to another eligible beneficiary category, such as being a military retiree or family member.

The effort to extend shopping to all civilian employees had been in the works for three years.

Lawrence did not give a reason for the change.

The American Federation of Government Employees -- the largest union representing federal employees -- declined to comment on the decision.

American Logistics Association President Steve Rossetti said DoD civilians should be allowed to shop at exchange stores, but he went a step further, saying they also should be able to buy groceries at commissaries.

That benefit expansion has not been entertained publicly by the DoD.

"Civilians work side-by-side with their military counterparts, making huge contributions in service to the nation," Rossetti said. "Nearly 300,000 of the 800,000 or so DoD civilian workers already have the benefits by virtue of their military affiliation ... and, overseas, civilians are authorized to patronize the stores."

Rossetti said increasing patronage would help bolster MWR programs hard hit by the pandemic, noting that a COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House of Representatives included $1.4 billion for non-appropriated fund facilities and programs.

That bill did not become law.

The Pentagon did shift $200 million from the first coronavirus relief package to exchange and MWR programs that saw financial losses as a result of state and local restrictions and lockdowns.

Rossetti noted that the Department of Homeland Security gives civilian employees access to Coast Guard exchanges.

"The stores have sufficient capacity and would provide a great convenience and source of vital products for these DoD civilians, especially critical during the pandemic," he said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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