Taxpayers already shell out over $2 million per year for an Air Force music troupe, and may have to dig even deeper if the group can’t find more sponsors to supplement its budget.
“Tops in Blue,” a traveling Air Force music troupe composed of service members, must step up fundraising efforts this year, The Air Force Times reported Thursday. The reason: “corporate sponsorships remain uncertain and congressionally appropriated funding is unchanged from 2014.”
In addition to an annual congressional appropriation of $319,000, the group’s 2015 budget also includes more than $1 million in MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) funds, which are designated for providing service members with entertainment and leisure activities. (RELATED: Taxpayers Owe Half a Billion Dollars for DESTROYED Aircraft)
Although the band’s congressional appropriation is unchanged from 2014, its MWR funding is set to increase by $114,000, or 12.6 percent above 2014 levels.
Moreover, the article points out, that budget “doesn’t account for the salary costs of airmen who are detailed from their jobs for virtually the entire year,” which adds “at least another $1 million,” based on the ranks of the 37 performers on this year’s team. (RELATED: Military Advocates Decry ‘Illegal’ Early Termination of 157 Air Force Majors)
Tops in Blue began performing in 1953, making it “one of the oldest and most widely traveled entertainment groups of its kind,” as well as “the service’s premier entertainment showcase,” according to a post on the Air Force website announcing the selection of this year’s performers.
However, the Times reports that Tops in Blue is not particularly popular among service members, consistently ranking among the most common suggestions for saving money given by airmen. Critics suggest that the group’s funding would be better spent on “amenities that are more popular with airmen and their families, such as movie theaters, swimming pools, libraries, and hobby shops.” (RELATED: Air Force Prepares to Waste $8.8 Billion on Drones)
In fact, some former Tops in Blue members who spoke to Air Force Times last year even “alleged that audiences are often filled by airmen who have been ordered to attend,” though the article notes that other former members dispute that claim.
The Air Force, on the other hand, counters that, “feedback surveys from base and wing commanders show 96 percent of commanders feel the group is an excellent value to their airmen,” and concludes that “Tops in Blue is a terrific morale-building, community relations and recruiting tool.”
So far this year, with just over a month before the scheduled start of its 2015 tour, Air Force officials told the Times in an email that Tops in Blue has just one “tentative verbal agreement” for a $30,000 corporate sponsorship— far less than the $170,000 it received from Dell and Coca-Cola last year.