Call it the year the rose-colored glasses came off. Between last spring and this one, lawmakers probed and prodded and listened in amazement as Navy officers and officials admitted reluctantly that the fleet was bow-on to shoal water.
The revelations began as a trickle. During last year's hearings on the Clinton administration's proposed budget, members of Congress wrung grudging acknowledgments from admirals that the country was building too few ships to maintain a 300-vessel fleet. But shipbuilding and incidental readiness concerns aside, everyone from then-Navy Secretary John Dalton on down insisted that everything was pretty much fine.
But as the year progressed, these pronouncements appeared more and more out of sync with the sheaves of anecdotal evidence harvested by lawmakers and their staffs: tales of undermanned ships, cannibalized aircraft, and personnel rosters full off gaps. What was going on?