Weeks after the alarming disclosure that three divisions had fallen considerably below peak readiness, the Army is quietly acknowledging that it initially misstated the historical significance of the low ratings.
The Army asserted in November that the slump represented the worst series of ratings in 12 years. But a look at past readiness statistics reveals that the same three divisions--along with other units at times--were scored well below peak status for several years in the mid-1980s, during the height of President Ronald Reagan's defense buildup.
The point is important, particularly for some Clinton Administration officials who have felt unjustly accused by Republican legislators of having allowed the Army's preparedness to drop to an uncommon low. Word of the fall in readiness emerged after Republicans won Congress on a campaign platform calling for increased military spending, and helped compel President Clinton to add $25 billion to the Pentagon's budget over the next six years.
Army officials now say their initial misstatement was an innocent case of imprecision, not a calculated effort to hype the gravity of the problem.
What they meant to say, according to interviews, was that the recent downturn in readiness marked the first time in 12 years that training cutbacks accounted for so many divisions being rated as unable to fulfill all their wartime missions.
The readiness slump of the mid-1980s, officials say, occurred largely as a result of re-equipping Army combat units with more modern tanks and other armored vehicles and weaponry.
By contrast, what underlies the current falloff in readiness in the 2nd Armored Division, 1st Infantry Division and 4th Infantry Division is an unexpected surge in contingency operations in such places as Haiti, Somalia and Rwanda. Delay in congressional reimbursement for these operations prompted the Army last year to finance them largely by drawing on training and maintenance funds.
There is no evidence calling into question the integrity of the divisional ratings. But some Administration officials do begrudge the Army leadership for appearing to exploit the low ratings politically--they popped up at a critical time in Pentagon budget deliberations.