The exchanges and commissaries are an earned benefit treasured by military families and an important contributor to their quality of life. The modest cost of providing military families with inexpensive but essential goods and services is almost invisible in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) overall budget.
Nevertheless, the Army and Air Force Exchange System (AAFES) and the Defense Commissaries Agency (DeCA) are under attack. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has recommended to Congress that AAFES be combined with the Defense Commissaries Agency (DeCA). Such a merger could reduce the AAFES workforce by several thousand employees, eliminating good jobs for military spouses and other hard-working Americans as well as closing exchanges that are highly valued by military families.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon wants to slash funding for DeCA, which could significantly reduce AAFES revenues since 20-30% of patronage at the exchanges is because they are located near the commissaries. The Pentagon demands that Congress slash funding for DeCA by $300 million next year, as a down-payment on a $1 billion cut. In comparison, DoD spent more than $150 billion on service contractors last year alone. The cut is a badly-disguised attempt to put the commissaries into a death spiral. Such a cut would force commissaries to reduce their hours and days of operation and increase costs for important goods and services, particularly at more remote locations. Commissaries would no longer be a convenient bargain for military families.
The exchanges and commissaries are used by almost the entire military community and they are considered to be vital forms of compensation by military families. However, the cost of these earned benefits is less than 00.3% of the entire DoD budget. No programs provide more bang for the buck than the exchanges and commissaries.