WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy is confronting any number of strategic challenges as it seeks to rein in costs and cope with an aging fleet.

And, then, on a new ship, there’s the issue of the toilets.

The USS George H.W. Bush, built at a cost of $6.2 billion and deployed on its first combat mission last spring, has a malfunctioning vacuum-based system causing repeated toilet outages.

In the old days, perhaps no one would have been the wiser about a problem with the toilets. Aircraft carriers, after all, would be at sea and out of touch for months at a time. But in the Internet era, what happens at sea does not stay at sea.

Last week, the mother of a sailor aboard the Bush, a Norfolk, Va.-based carrier, fired off a post on her blog, complaining about the toilets. The independent Navy Times reported that some sailors searched for upwards of an hour for a functioning toilet.

The Navy has acknowledged the problems but insisted they are being caused primarily by sailors flushing what shouldn’t be flushed: shirts, underwear and eggs, among other items.

The commander of the carrier, Capt. Brian Luther, said his engineers have logged 10,000 hours on the current deployment to the Persian Gulf trying to address toilet issues. Most of the problems, he said, have been dealt with quickly.

But according to an article this year in the carrier’s internal newsletter there was at least one instance when a clog caused all of the heads on the forward half of the ship, and then the rear, to back up.