USFJ urges servicemembers to take survey that helps set COLA rates
February 11, 2005
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — An online survey provides a chance for servicemembers to input information the government uses to determine overseas cost-of-living allowances.
The Living Pattern Survey, put in motion by the U.S. Forces Japan Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee, is open through March 1, said Petty Officer 1st Class Billy Reynolds, LPS point-of-contact for the Sasebo area.
Reynolds said all single or married servicemembers with command-sponsored dependents living completely or in part on the local economy are eligible “and encouraged” to take part.
The LPS results help determine amounts of COLA paid to servicemembers stationed overseas. COLA is designed to allow such servicemembers to maintain the purchasing power they’d have if stationed in the United States.
An LPS usually is done every three years. USFJ had planned its next one for 2006, Reynolds said. It’s done at other overseas locations around the world, too, but right now is being done only in Japan because of the fluctuations in the strong yen/weak U.S. dollar currency conversion, he said. “So, instead of waiting another year, U.S. Forces Japan officials wanted the survey be done now, just two years since the last effort.”
The current survey seeks participants at U.S. installations in mainland Japan and Okinawa, he said.
Civilians in Okinawa also are invited to take the survey but civilians in mainland Japan should not participate. The State Department is responsible for civilian post allowance surveys on the Japanese mainland but on Okinawa, that responsibility falls to the Defense Department.
“It’s important that servicemembers sit down and take the time … to fill out the survey and identify where they shop when they do so off base,” said Army Lt. Col. Keith Muschalek, the USFJ country allowances coordinator at Yokota Air Base.
“The importance is in providing the right prices and other information we can use to make sure the COLA Index will reflect what they actually need” while on duty in Japan, he said.
The LPS questions are meant to identify where and how goods and services are purchased off base. The information obtained is used in conjunction with a Retail Price Report — the one paired with this LPS is to occur in April — to form a basis for prescribing COLA in the various areas of Japan.
“Okinawa is considered all one area as far as COLA but COLA can differ at bases in the mainland,” Muschalek said. “The COLA for the Misawa area is likely different than in Yokosuka, and so on.”
Reynolds said the survey doesn’t ask how much items cost off base.
“In April, we check into that when we send out teams to tally prices off-base” for the Retail Price Report, he said. “The LPS does, however, ask for percentages of shopping people do on base, off base and online.”
One comment field within the LPS allows for notations about any special considerations — regular payments of road tolls, buying produce off base because it’s fresher, paying routine parking fees — that factor into the cost of living in the locality, Reynolds said.
Sasebo servicemembers can call Reynolds at DSN 252-3664 for more information. At other bases, additional information can be obtained from calling your Personnel Services Department for additional information.
USFJ’s Living Pattern Survey
Servicemembers (and, on Okinawa only, civilians) who want to take the USFJ Living Pattern Survey must do so by March 1. The shopping questionnaire takes about 30 minutes to complete. To calculate installation cost-of-living allowances, officials use information gathered from the survey and other pricing comparisons.
A servicemember or spouse must enter the last six digits of the servicemember’s Social Security number and the location code JA035 upon entering the survey.
The survey is online at https://126.96.36.199/oscola/lps/japan/
— Staff reports