It’s hard to measure the performance of the military’s 136 musical bands

WASHINGTON – The military’s 136 bands don’t have a way to measure their performance, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported Thursday.

In a 49-page report detailing the types of bands the military employs – from jazz ensemble to woodwind quintet – the GAO outlined how the services have yet to “develop objectives and measures to assess how their bands are addressing the bands’ missions, such as inspiring patriotism and enhancing the morale of troops.”

About 6,500 uniformed personnel, at a cost of $260 million a year, are serving as musicians, the GAO found. The Army employs the most bands at 99; followed by the Air Force at 14. The Marine Corps employs 12 bands; the Navy 11.  

Military musicians at present perform in either one of the premiere bands, who play for the president or military leadership, or field bands, which are located at military facilities and play for local communities. There are also individual musicians for events such as a military funeral.

Almost all military musicians are combat deployable, with exceptions for some of the premiere bands such as  the Marine Corps’ “The President’s Own.” But most band members are deployed to provide music, not to fight, the GAO found.

The military’s bands have come under scrutiny by the Defense Department as it carries out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ directive to realign its spending and emphasis to rebuild readiness and lethality. Each branch has stated it intends to reduce the number of bands in service.

“Every action we take will be designed to ensure our military is ready to fight today,” Mattis said shortly after he was sworn in as defense secretary. ”We are devoted to gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense.” 

While a military band performance – a staple of baseball games and concerts – can be a crowd-pleaser, the military hasn’t found a way to prove their value, the GAO found.

“Doing so could provide decision makers with the information they need to assess the value of the military bands relative to resource demands for other priorities,” the GAO found.

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