Sailors, not ships, were Topic A in discussions between lawmakers and Navy officials throughout 1999.
The reason was simple: plummeting personnel retention seemed to threaten the ability of the former to man the latter properly.
The prospect was frightening enough to induce Congress to enact the most sweeping pay-and-benefits improvements in more than a decade. Passed in late 1999, the Fiscal Year 2000 Defense Appropriations Act hiked pay a minimum of 4.8% for all service members; Navy personnel also saw new and improved career continuation bonuses.
With that victory newly in hand, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay L. Johnson announced the next big task for the Joint Chiefs of Staff: improving military health care. It sounded a bit strange for the CNO to emphasize tail—not tooth. But just weeks later, Defense Secretary William Cohen underlined the new priorities with the Pentagon's fiscal year 2001 budget proposal. And the former Republican senator went one social service better, by hiking housing subsidies for military members and proposing to eliminate out-of-pocket housing costs over five years.