House NDAA Puts Military Bands on the Run

Over two years ago, NTU’s Executive Vice President, Brandon Arnold, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the state of government waste. In addition to major structural and procedural reforms such as enacting spending limits, resurrecting the Byrd Committee, and strengthening whistleblower protections, Arnold also highlighted the commonsense, bipartisan spending cuts outlined in the joint NTU-U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) “Toward Common Ground” report.

He told the Committee that Congress could achieve “As much as $197.2 billion in savings from ending low-priority or unnecessary military programs,” including “$1.9 billion by reducing expenditures on military bands, $691 million by reducing printing and reproduction costs at the Pentagon, and $8.4 billion by consolidating commissaries and retail stores on military bases.”

Unfortunately for taxpayers, these options have been repeatedly rejected by Congress in favor of more spending, more debt, and more borrowing – all made possible with the creative use of budget gimmicks.

Until now. Kind of. reported earlier this week that the recently passed House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 4909, takes a minor step toward acceding to trimming some potential waste in the vast Pentagon budget. The bill directs the Comptroller General of the United States to submit a report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees by February 1, 2017 on the Department of Defense (DOD) requirement for military bands and for the Secretary of Defense to brief the Committees on military bands in the meantime.  An accompanying report to the legislation states that “The committee believes that the services may be able to conserve end strength by reducing the number of military bands.”

Of course, it remains to be seen what comes of this inquiry. If there was a positive correlation between the number of reports requested annually by Congress and reforms enacted, taxpayers would have very little to criticize.

Skepticism aside, the Politico story makes clear that there is at least some appetite in Congress to seriously reconsider habitual Pentagon spending in light of changing priorities and economic challenges:

Entertainment is just not the role of the military," said Rep. Martha McSally, a hawkish Arizona Republican and retired Air Force colonel who serves on the Armed Services Committee. She and other lawmakers are ramping up the pressure with new legislation that would require the Pentagon to determine whether it could ease cuts in combat units by reducing the number of musicians.

McSally told POLITICO that military musicians fulfill important ceremonial tasks and protocols presidential inaugurations, parades and other public events and, of course, funerals. But she can no longer support such large expenditures when were at a place where were having this conversation about being at a crisis level of readiness and force structure and manning for our military.

The article goes on to describe how Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) has also tried many times since 2011 to reduce spending on military bands, asking once on the House floor, “Is the United States really going to borrow money from China and other foreign countries so the Defense Department can spend billions of dollars for its 140 bands? How does this enhance our national security?”

In the spirit of the NTU-U.S. PIRG and the successful Mulvaney (R-SC)-Van Hollen (D-MD) bipartisan partnership, Representatives McSally and McCollum should join forces in this effort. If the appropriations process continues in the House, legislators have an important opportunity to reduce wasteful spending in the upcoming DOD appropriation bill. Enacting less than 10 percent of the recommended Pentagon spending reforms in the “Toward Common Ground” report would pay for the $17-18 billion lawmakers are trying to tack on to the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations account to fund the Pentagon’s wish list.

And as other legislators prepare for pending spending bills and the Senate NDAA, taxpayers hope they will ask themselves Rep. McCollum’s essential question: How does this enhance our national security?