A $437 million annual budget is allotted for US military bands. While that's less than 0.1% of the Department of Defense's total budget, it's also about as much as Latvia's entire defense budget, reports Fox News. The funds pay for instruments—the Air Force requested to buy a $75,000 cello last year—and travel for 137 military bands, made up of 6,650 musicians, which the DoD say inspire patriotism and boost morale, per the Daily Caller. The Navy even claims the bands, which sometimes play for foreign leaders, offer "an initial step towards improving relationships with foreign nations." But the Government Accountability Office isn't so sure, claiming in a new report that military services haven't been able to show if or how the bands meet these objectives.
The problem, according to the military, is that patriotism and morale aren't necessarily easy to assess. While the GAO suggests focus groups and surveys, the military says those would only cost more money and the budget for military bands is already heavily scrutinized. Nonetheless, the Pentagon says it plans to institute performance measures in early 2018, per Military.com. The GAO report notes such a step is key to determining "the value of the military bands relative to resource demands for other priorities." Though a decline in band costs for the Marine Corps, Army, and National Guard accompanied a 7.5% drop in band members across the military between 2012 and 2016, the GAO says band costs for the Navy and Air Force increased by $4.1 million and $1.6 million, respectively.