DeCA receives ‘clean’ audit for sixth straight year

             FORT LEE , Va. – The Defense Commissary Agency has been delivering the benefit to U.S. military members and their families for the past 16 years. And, for the past six, DeCA has done so while also managing to prove that it is among DoD’s best in accounting for its budget.

            Independent auditors have once again given DeCA’s financial statements an unqualified opinion for fiscal 2007. In financial reporting, this means that the commissary agency has done a superior job at following and accounting for its money: more than $5 billion in annual sales and another $1 billion received in federal funding. Balancing this “checkbook” means a lot more when the funds belong to the American taxpayer, said Rick Page, DeCA acting director.

            “By continually achieving clean audit opinions, we prove that we are responsible caretakers of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Page said. “This means the public can trust us in delivering the commissary benefit in the most efficient and effective manner possible.”

            DeCA joins three other DoD agencies that have received six consecutive unqualified or “clean” opinions: the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Military Retirement Trust Fund and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. The DoD Inspector General also achieved an unqualified opinion for fiscal 2007.

            Since receiving its first unqualified opinion in 2002, DeCA has turned financial reporting into a team effort. It all starts with agency accountants pulling all the information together during each quarterly reporting period and all levels of management supporting an atmosphere of open financial reporting, said Pam Conklin, DeCA’s chief financial executive.

            “Our accountants are a group of talented and dedicated professionals who take pride in this agency setting its best financial foot forward,” Conklin said. “However, this achievement could not happen without all of DeCA’s team members working together to ensure that the agency’s financial books are in order.”

            During its annual evaluation, DeCA’s internal controls and financial statements are put under a microscope by auditors from KPMG, an international auditing firm. They look for efficiency and accuracy in reports dealing with areas such as time and attendance, annual inventories of resale stocks, equipment inventories, property accountability, and information technology controls over financial systems at various locations including commissaries, regional offices and DeCA headquarters, as well as outside organizations, such as its financial links to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Columbus. An evaluation can range from no opinion to an adverse opinion to the best possible ruling, an unqualified opinion.

            For fiscal 2007, the standards for determining an audit opinion were raised, said Carol Burroughs, chief of the accounting compliance and reporting division. “For DeCA, it meant that a minor finding that was previously only included as a ‘management letter comment’ could now be reported as a significant deficiency, or, worse, a material weakness – both of which could have jeopardized DeCA’s clean opinion. It took just that much more effort from the agency in fiscal 2007 to yet again obtain an unqualified opinion.”

            The journey toward the next clean audit opinion in fiscal 2008 will have to account for new review areas such as the agency’s new store front-end system, the Commissary Advanced Resale Transaction System, known as CARTS, and the next phase of DeCA’s online shopping initiative, Virtual Commissary.                    

            “Each year, the standards and requirements placed upon the agency become more and more stringent, but we welcome the challenge,” said Larry Bands, chief of DeCA’s accounting directorate. “With each additional challenge, we strengthen our internal controls, improve our reporting methods and continue to foster an environment of open communication.”

Survey results echo rising customer satisfaction

By Kevin L. Robinson

FORT LEE, Va. – The results are in: Customer satisfaction continues to increase as commissary patrons express their opinions in the latest customer service survey. Patrons rated the commissary at 4.61 (out of 5) – the Defense Commissary Agency’s highest score ever. “Of all the numbers we use to track our effectiveness, these results mean the most because they come straight from our customers,” DeCA Director Patrick B. Nixon says of the Fiscal 2006 Commissary Customer Service Survey. “Through this survey, our customers are saying that we deliver a premier benefit, and that validates the hard work of the thousands of DeCA employees worldwide who have dedicated themselves to serving our military and their families.”

            The latest score marks a 0.06-point increase from the previous survey of 4.55 in fiscal 2005.

            DeCA conducted the annual survey beginning June 6 at its commissaries worldwide. For 10 straight days – three times per day – selected customers answered a series of 14 questions designed to measure all facets of their commissary shopping experience. These questions targeted the following areas: savings and prices; store hours, decor and appearance; product quality, selection and availability; checkout procedures; and employee customer service.

            The resulting 21,480 responses were measured on a 5-point rating scale, where 1 = Very Poor, 2 = Poor, 3 = Average, 4 = Good and 5 = Very Good. The overall CCSS score is an average of the 14 item scores: 

 CCSS Item                                                                         FY 2005          FY 2006

 1.  Low prices/overall savings                                                   4.58                 4.61

2.  Well stocked, full shelves                                                      4.38                 4.48

3.  Convenient hours                                                                  4.59                 4.63

4.  Entrance/sales area/restrooms cleanliness                               4.58                 4.64

5.  Produce quality/selection                                                       4.47                 4.52

6.  Meat quality/selection                                                            4.56                 4.62

7.  Deli quality/selection                                                              4.51                 4.59

8.  Bakery quality/selection                                                        4.45                 4.52

9.  Other food items (dry goods, frozen foods & dairy)               4.55                 4.61

10. Store layout and time required to shop                                  4.55                 4.61

11. Checkout waiting time                                                          4.56                 4.58

12. Attractive displays/store décor                                              4.54                 4.58

13. Courteous, friendly and helpful employees                              4.75                 4.77

14. Overall satisfaction (How did we do?)                                   4.68                 4.72

 Overall Score                                                                           4.55                 4.61

            Overall, all item scores increased from the previous survey. The top three were “Courteous, friendly and helpful employees” at 4.77, “Overall satisfaction (How did we do?)” at 4.72, and “Entrance/sales area/restroom cleanliness” at 4.64. Although the lowest item score was “Well stocked, full shelves” at 4.48, it was also the most improved over last year’s score of 4.38. 

            Since the commissary agency formed in 1991, DeCA has used a survey to rate its customer service. Prior to 2000, the process was called the Customer Service and Evaluation System or CSES, an Air Force system based on a 0-100 rating scale, says Barry C. White, an operations research analyst at DeCA headquarters.

            Since 2000, the agency has employed the simpler CCSS process that is tailor made for evaluating commissary operations.  

            Over the past few years, DeCA has emphasized superior customer service as a standard for its commissary employees. It’s no accident that the “Courteous, friendly and helpful employees” category consistently receives the highest score, Nixon says.

            “We want our commissary customers to feel that they have received the best service at the best store and purchased quality products at the best price,” the director says. “This survey helps us stay focused on these goals and identify any area we may need to improve.” 

Industry survey gauges active duty perceptions of commissaries

By Bonnie Powell 

FORT LEE, Va. – A commissary industry committee is spearheading a first-ever online survey aimed at finding out more about the commissary shopping habits and perception of savings of active duty military service members.

The survey is being funded, conducted, and compiled by the Consumer Awareness Team, a commissary industry committee that researches and funds projects to help military service members understand the value of their commissary benefit. At stake for anyone taking the survey: two minutes of their time and a chance to win one of 250 commissary gift certificates valued at $50 each. The certificates are also funded by industry.

Since the survey is being conducted and funded by private industry, the survey is not available at commissaries, but can be taken online at
The online survey will be available through September.

Any authorized commissary shopper is welcome to take the survey, but the Consumer Awareness Team does have a specific audience it’s trying to reach. “We want to gather more information on the shopping habits of active service members, particularly E1-E6 and junior officers,” said Steve Lamkin, CAT chairman. “The results will help us make decisions about what outreach projects we undertake. In addition, our projects are funded by the manufacturers who sell products to commissary customers, so those manufacturers obviously have an interest in any projects that will increase business.”

The survey has just six questions on demographic information such as duty and family status, frequency of shopping, perception of commissary savings and percent of household grocery money spent at the commissary.

According to Deborah Kalas, chairman of the CAT survey sub-committee, “Even though shoppers can save 30 percent or more over retail at the commissary, it’s sometimes difficult to get the word out to new military members that the commissary can really help them. Hopefully this survey will help us understand their perceptions about the commissary and what we can do as industry partners to communicate the value of the benefit to all authorized shoppers.”

Although the survey is not “official,” the results will also be shared with DeCA as a tool for outreach and marketing. “We aren’t able to collect that kind of demographic information on our customers,” said Kaye Kennedy, chief of DeCA corporate communications, “and although we do an official Commissary Customer Satisfaction Survey twice a year, it only surveys shoppers who are already in the stores. It’s great that our industry partners are doing projects that can provide valuable feedback and help us focus our outreach and marketing efforts to the right audiences.”

  Editor’s Note: Survey results for are attached.


The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of nearly 280 commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families. Authorized patrons purchase items at cost plus a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. Shoppers save an average of more than 30 percent on their purchases compared to commercial prices – savings worth more than $2,400 annually for a family of four. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.