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ARLINGTON, Va. — Cutbacks in full-time employees at commissaries have not hampered operations or customer service, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of Congress.

Last year, the Defense Commissary Agency began making personnel cuts as part of a plan to reduce expenditures and operating costs by 7 percent by fiscal 2004. The job cutbacks are expected to save about $82 million without any loss of service to its customers, according to the report. The agency’s annual sales in fiscal 2002 totaled about $5 billion.

The agency operates 276 stores worldwide and had 18,066 full-time positions before the cutbacks began. DECA already has eliminated a majority of the planned 3,047 full-time positions worldwide to be cut by the end of next fiscal year. The cutbacks so far have resulted in 122 employees being laid off and 341 retiring early, the GAO reported.

Of the total planned cutback, 187 will be made at the headquarters at Fort Lee, Va.; 170 will be at regional offices worldwide, and 2,690 at stores worldwide. As of Dec. 31, they completed 2,602 of the planned cuts, according to the report.

The agency used more part-time employees, which “provided store directors with flexibility to meet workload fluctuations and enabled some stores to increase their operating hours to meet customer needs,” the report states.

Some part-time employees are paid an hourly wage and receive medical and other benefits based on the number of hours they work, DECA spokeswoman Florence Dunn said.

DECA officials did not comment on the report or answer questions posed by Stars and Stripes over two days.

According to the report, the 2,316 cutbacks at the store levels were made in the following areas and methods:

1,113 full-time positions were eliminated by staffing stores based on sales volume.812 already-vacant positions were eliminated. Another 261 eliminations are planned for this year.304 positions were eliminated when 15 stores closed. Another 49 positions will be eliminated at two stores at Rhein-Main and Bad Aibling in Germany this year.87 positions were eliminated by contracting out such store functions as receiving, handling and stocking. Another 30 positions at various stores will be eliminated in this way this year. The remaining 26 planned reductions were canceled to provide positions for a new computer-aided ordering function.Managers of smaller stores had a hard time balancing workloads because of the staffing reductions in management positions, the report noted.

GAO investigators compared customer service surveys, and noted that the November 2002 survey showed scores were the same or higher for overall customer satisfaction when compared with two past surveys. Areas in which customers were pleased included time spent waiting in line and convenient store hours, the report states.

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