Does Washington need another armed forces band? The question is being asked not here but in New London, Conn., where the 46 members of the Coast Guard Band are facing the bleak prospect of losing 24 members and having the other 22 shipped off to work in the nation's capital. The changes are apparently a reaction to budget cuts in the Department of Transportation, which took the Coast Guard from Treasury when it was created. "It seemed to be easier to get money when we were with Treasury," said a band member. "Of course, they print it."

Washington already has enough bands to do justice even to the home town of John Philip Sousa -- four, representing the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force; five if you count the Army Field Band stationed at Fort George G. Meade. For the 56 years of its existence, the Coast Guard Band has been stationed at the Coast Guard Academy except for about 100 days each year when it has its national tour. In New London it has become a significant part of the musical life, with frequent, well-attended concerts. When the ax falls (reportedly by the beginning of fiscal 1983, much too soon for attrition to have any significant effect), more than half the band's members will be eliminated. Some can probably transfer to other service bands; others may find themselves polishing brass rather than playing it. And Washington will have another military band -- one with less than 10 percent of the membership of the Army Band.