WASHINGTON — Military bands appear poised to play on through the summer, but their performances next fiscal year will face tougher scrutiny.
Lawmakers critical of the expense of the musical ensembles have been targeting the groups in recent years, including a proposal last summer that would have banned the bands from performing at "social events" to include a number of nonmilitary community celebrations.
But that idea — passed by the House in their fiscal 2017 defense appropriations bill last June — was dropped in the most recent defense spending bill plan released by chamber Republicans last week.
Instead, the partial-year fiscal 2017 defense spending measure calls for the secretary of defense to "ensure that only the critical functions of military bands are supported while minimizing impacts on funding for essential readiness, military personnel, modernization, and research and development activities."
That language more closely mirrors a study proposal considered last fall by the congressional Armed Services committees, and does not carry the same restrictions for the bands.
"Band engagements play an important support role for national security and joint operations, opening diplomatic doors for political and military discussions while building trust and confidence with foreign military and civilian authorities," the latest appropriations bill report stated. "However, the activities of military bands must not detract from the core competencies of the military."
The House is expected to pass the appropriations measure this week. Senate Democrats have said they will not advance the measure unless other non-military appropriations bills are also moving through the legislative process.
Lawmakers have until the end of April to pass a spending plan for the second half of fiscal 2017, otherwise they’ll cause a partial government shutdown.
For now, the bands — and most of the rest of the Defense Department — are operating on fiscal 2016 levels. According to Defense Department estimates, military bands spend about $437 million on instruments, uniforms and travel expenses each year.
Several of the ensembles were on display for a national audience during President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.
Critics have called the band at best a distraction from the basic responsibilities of the military, but supporters have argued they play a key role in recruiting and community outreach.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.