The Washington Post

House puts squeeze on military’s ‘musical arsenal’

Members of the United States Marine Corps Band from Quantico, Va. (Matt McClain for The Washington Post)

The House, for a second year in a row, has approved a measure limiting Pentagon spending on military bands next year to only $200 million.

An amendment by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was approved as part of the fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization Bill and could save $188 million if it makes it through Congress. A similar amendment passed by the House last year, however, was dropped by the House-Senate conference.

In a statement placed in the Congressional Record, McCollum said: “Over the past four years, taxpayers have spent $1.55 billion for the Pentagon’s 150 military bands and more than 5,000 full-time, professional military musicians.... At a time of fiscal crisis the Pentagon will have to get by spending only $200 million for their musical arsenal.”

The military has plans to spend $388 million on military bands in fiscal 2013 — roughly $10 million less than this year.

But, when it comes to reining in spending, only the Air Force had plans to do so, dropping eight of its 23 bands next year. The other services are increasing funding.

In 2010, former defense secretary Robert M. Gates first directed public attention to spending on military bands, noting that more money was spent on them than on the State Department’s Foreign Service Officers. Gates, however, never formally proposed reducing band spending.

For fiscal 2013, the Air Force reductions will eliminate 103 positions; those whose bands are being affected would be moved to other regional bands.

The decision was made “in response to today’s fiscally austere environment,” said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. “The Air Force is going to get smaller, and so will our bands.”

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps, which also face personnel reductions, are keeping their current 125 bands for 2013 and actually increasing their spending on them by $6.4 million, according to the Defense Department.

The Pentagon defends spending on bands, saying they assist in recruiting and retention programs and also play at White House, Defense Department and other government and congressionally sponsored events.

The Army maintains 99 bands and intends to spend $221.1 million on them next year. That’s up $3.3 million from this year. The Navy has 14 bands that will cost an estimated $55.6 million next year, while the Marine Corps has 12 bands that will cost $53.6 million in 2013.

McCollum scored another victory on Thursday. Her amendment, put forward with Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), to eliminate all Pentagon spending to sponsor professional or semi-professional sports, including auto racing, was attached to the fiscal Defense Appropriations Bill. Some $80 million was spent on sports sponsorship this year, including $26 million by the National Guard to place its logo on Dale Earnhardt Jr’s NASCAR vehicle, as well as on his uniform and those of his racing team.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.



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