- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2011


Recently, it has been called into question why the military operates grocery and department stores. While many budget-conscious experts question the need for such services, defense officials must weigh the immense value and cost savings of the military resale systems against fleeting political rhetoric.

Commissaries and exchanges are among the most popular benefits enjoyed by members of our military. Surveys of military members indicate that the resale system is routinely ranked second only to retirement and health care benefits, the top benefits of military service. As our military remains engaged with the enemy on a variety of fronts, the need to care for military families remains a top priority to Congress. Few programs can match the power of the military resale systems to rally and solidify the strength of the military community, the bedrock of combat readiness.

We realize the difficulty current budget challenges impose on Department of Defense managers. However, the funding the military exchange system receives is used primarily to subsidize the shipping costs necessary to provide a comfortable quality of life for families serving overseas. While commissary operations require $1.3 billion in appropriated funding, the purpose, power and efficiency of the commissary and exchange systems must not be overlooked, especially for our service members and families overseas.

The nation established the commissary and exchange systems to ensure that military families were provided access to reasonably priced food and other basic goods. Consequently, both commissaries and exchanges have proved highly effective in delivering savings to patrons. The commissary system directly puts $4,400 in the pocketbook of a family of four each year, while exchanges return $300 million annually to support morale, welfare and recreation programs throughout the services.

Establishing itself as one of the federal government’s most cost-effective operations, the commissary system delivers a remarkable $2.08 return benefit for every dollar expended; this equates to $2.6 billion in savings annually to service members.

Finally, the commissaries and exchanges employ thousands of military dependents. This not only adds millions of dollars of income to families throughout the military, but greatly contributes to the quality of life and culture on base. Military dependents can serve their country while simultaneously earning a living. Choosing to discontinue these systems would not be in the best interest of our country, as it would result in an increase in the costs of basic goods for service members and their families and higher unemployment for military dependents and would end one of the government’s most efficient programs.

We, along with 67 of our colleagues in the House of Representatives, sent Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta a letter expressing our support for continuing these resale systems. We are confident the military resale systems will do their best to become even more efficient to help meet the budget challenges in the months ahead. We only ask that they be afforded an opportunity to continue to serve their most deserving patrons.

Rep. Joe Wilson is a South Carolina Republican, and Rep. Susan A. Davis is a California Democrat.

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