ECN CoverE&C Commissary News

Editorial Comment — June 2013

Proceed With Caution


Decision time is upon the Department of Defense (DoD) as agencies and commands try to coordinate responses to three or four different reviews taking place concurrently, some of them in a dreadful rush.

We understand that any military resale entity that receives even a modicum of appropriated funding is doing its part to come up with savings and efficiencies — even if, as the military exchanges do, it generates a profit and contributes dividends to morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) programs. Like other agencies and commands that rely entirely on appropriated funding (APF), the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) is also doing its part, and its Transformation Advisory Team (TAT) is said to have come up with a slew of proposals for finding between 5 and 33 percent in budget cuts.

Anyone who's been in the marketplace even a short time realizes that while DeCA has, over its 22-year existence, already slashed at least $900 million in costs, there's only so far it can go.

The agency has eliminated more than 6,600 full-time-equivalent positions, and has restructured, reorganized and refined to eliminate above storelevel management, even where it has hurt to do so.

Still, somehow, it ranks consistently among the most responsible government agencies in terms of fiscal stewardship, as it vies for the No.-1 position as servicemember families' most-valued benefit.

The commissary is the cornerstone of resale on base; its drive for efficiencies continues, is commendable, and is by now pretty much second nature. We doubt that any government program has been asked to give back as much while still generating a significant return on investment (ROI). In fact, how many other government programs are there that even return a nickel to Uncle Sam?

It delivers a benefit to servicemembers and their families that multiplies the appropriated funding it gets by a factor of anywhere from 2-to-1 to 6-to-1 depending on whose numbers you choose to use. Further, its economic impact to the nation is staggering in terms of employment and other savings to the government — the Military Resale and MWR Center for Research has calculated this as somewhere north of 20-to-1.

When the nation and servicemembers need a program that actually does what it's supposed to do, does it well and contributes numerous collateral economic benefits to the nation, the last thing we need to be doing in a time of severe budgetary constraints is grasping for solutions that could break the machine, strewing debris that could damage other important resale and MWR programs.

Many proposals, sources say, are on the table. Such ideas as the enhanced commissary and variable pricing have been carefully examined, in some cases tested, and rejected in the past — but different times require different considerations.

Thinking out of the box should be applauded, but pursuing ideas that might possibly do more harm than good is not the way to the future.

Word on the street is that such measures as raising the surcharge, expanding the customer base, selling alcoholic beverages in grocery floor space, and closing some CONUS stores are reportedly under consideration. Likewise, funding for exchange and commissary Second Destination Transportation (SDT) and overseas facilities operations and maintenance is being poked and prodded to see what it can yield. Bearing in mind that each may bring with it unintended consequences to the detriment of patrons' quality of life, should one or another of these proposals be embraced, or should they be strenuously avoided?

Let's sit tight and let people go through the process to see if there isn't some remarkable solution that hasn't yet come to light, or that hasn't been feasible until now.

Great caution, however, must be exercised in the coming months as these topics are deliberated. These are the servicemembers' and their families' benefits we're talking about here. They have given the nation their courage, their endurance, their protection, and their own flesh and blood — and they are owed the very best in return: they should not be shortchanged in any way to fix a budget shortfall they had no part in creating.

To receive your own advance copy of the EandC News editorial each month,