Shopping habits survey will help per diem panel set COLA rates
In Europe, much has been made over the past year of how expensive some goods and services have become since the euro became legal tender.
Germany’s highest-circulation newspaper, Bild, even deputized someone to uncover inflation that businesses masked as currency conversion. He’s known as the “teuro sheriff,” a play on the German word for expensive.
“There’s a perception [among some servicemembers] that our dollar doesn’t go as far as when we had the deutsche mark,” said William Gordon, chief of quality assurance for the 266th Finance Command. “That’s what we are trying to find out.”
The Defense Department is conducting two surveys this year to determine if that is the case. Ultimately, officials will use the data to figure out the cost-of-living allowance, or COLA, for uniformed personnel.
“We need the facts,” Gordon said. “We need the numbers.”
The first phase of the first survey concludes at the end of this month. It started Dec. 1.
Known as the Living Pattern Survey, its purpose is to ascertain where servicemembers shop. The survey, conducted every three years, is currently polling uniformed personnel in Germany.
The Army is leading the effort in Germany, while the Navy and Air Force have Italy and England, respectively. The survey in Italy is slated for March and April. Servicemembers in England get their chance to respond in May and June. Even though the United Kingdom did not adopt the euro, the survey is expected to reflect price changes there over the past three years. Information is being sought for large and small installations.
Nearly all of the respondents are using a computer to complete the survey, said Stephen L. Bridges, director of finance and accounting policy for the 266th Finance Command. Bridges said the command’s goal is to have 95 percent participation.
Those assigned to the 10 communities participating in the survey can get more information on how to complete the survey by logging onto to: http://266fincom1.hqusareur.army.mil/COLASurvey/COLA.htm.
The information will then be forwarded to the Department of Defense per diem committee that sets the COLA rates, and subsequently used to conduct the second survey.
That second survey is the annual glimpse at retail prices. The so-called “market basket” survey assesses the prices of goods and services from several locations, presumably those that draw the most Americans.
Designated individuals will use the information gleaned from the first survey to get prices on about 120 goods and services, ranging from whole milk to Internet rates. In the past, the annual survey collected prices on about 160 items, but officials decided to pare the list down.
The Army may send its representatives out into the stores as early as mid-February, Bridges said. Raw data could be available as early as early March, meaning the per diem committee could start using the new information as early as springtime to set a more realistic COLA rate.
The store prices are compared with what someone would pay for the same item or service in the United States. The COLA rate is then adjusted up or down to reflect, or mirror, the buying power of a servicemember who is stateside.
“The whole goal here is to pay the soldiers correctly,” Bridges said.