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Report to Congress on Selective Service and Draft Registration

The following is the Jan. 28, 2019 Congressional Research Service report, The Selective Service System and Draft Registration: Issues for Congress.

From the Report

The Military Selective Service Act (MSSA), first enacted as the Selective Service Act of 1948, provides the statutory authority for the federal government to maintain a Selective Service System (SSS) as an independent federal agency responsible for delivering appropriately qualified civilian men for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States as authorized by Congress. The annual budget for the agency is just under $23 million. One of the SSS’s main functions is to maintain a database of registrants in case of a draft. The agency stores approximately 78 million records in order to verify registration status and eligibility for certain benefits that require certification of registration for eligibility. The SSS has a staff of about 124 full-time employees, complemented by a corps of volunteers and military reservists.

The MSSA requires most males between the ages of 18 and 26 who are citizens or residents of the United States to register with Selective Service. Women in the United States have never been required to register for the draft. Men who fail to register may be subject to criminal penalties, loss of eligibility for certain federal or state employment opportunities and education benefits, and denial of security clearances. Documented or undocumented immigrants who fail to register may not be able to obtain United States citizenship. Registration compliance rates were 92% in calendar year 2016. While individuals may still register at U.S. post offices, the SSS attributes high compliance rates to a system of automatic electronic registration supported by state legislation and interagency cooperation.

The MSSA does not currently authorize the use of a draft for induction into the Armed Forces. When the draft has been implemented, it has met some public resistance. Such resistance to the draft drives much of the opposition toward maintaining the SSS and the registration requirement. Even some who are not opposed to the government’s use of conscription in a time of national need are opposed to maintaining the current SSS agency infrastructure. They argue that a stand-alone agency is unnecessary and expensive and that there are a number of alternatives that could more effectively and efficiently enable the country to reestablish conscription, if necessary. Others counter that, at the cost of $23 million annually, maintaining the SSS is a relatively inexpensive insurance policy should the draft need to be quickly reinstated. They also argue that maintaining the SSS sends a signal to potential adversaries that the United States is willing to draw on its full national resources for armed conflict if necessary.

Some are concerned that the registration requirements are inequitable, arguing that it is unfair to men that women can voluntarily serve in all military occupations but are exempt from the registration requirement and the prospect of being drafted. In addition, some have raised concerns that the statutory penalties for failing to register and whether these penalties are more likely to be levied on vulnerable groups. Some contend that Congress should amend MSSA and associated statute to remove penalties for failing to register. Others argue that weakening or removing penalties would cause registration compliance rates to fall to unacceptably low levels. In response to these issues, Congress has established a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service to provide research support and recommendations on the future of the SSS.

Download document here.

  • Ed L

    Interesting. All males 19 to 26 entering the United States legally for the purpose of immigration or visa must register with the selective service. Shame they don’t register the illegals

    • muzzleloader

      Now that could be a great deterrent. Every illegal caught should be taken straight to an MEF station and processed right into a four year term in the US Army as an infantryman for a four year tour of duty in Afghanistan. Yeah, I like that!

      • DaSaint

        Similar was done in the past. But you then have to give them US citizenship. Don’t think that after proper training in one of the armed services, that most wouldn’t do well. Plus, they would get paid, benefits, etc. Bingo, you’ve just created another incentive!

        And if reports are accurate, Afghanistan is about to be a thing of the past…so…

    • Marc Apter

      People here on Visa’s don’t have to register for Selective Service!

    • Rocco

      No it’s not a shame!!

  • DaSaint

    I’ve always been in favor or mandatory service for ALL men and women, for at least 2 or preferably 4 years, with a reserve commitment of at least 4 years. For everyone – rich, poor, all ethnicities, races or whatever.

    This could be especially good for those leaving high school, who don’t yet quite have the discipline for college. After service, they may be better prepared for either college or other training or job opportunities, whichever fits them best.

    • Conscription leads to a military that is unmotivated, less effective, more expensive, with poor readyness rates, and all kinds of criminal elements. We don’t need anyone who isn’t there by choice. Our all volunteer armed forces are the most powerful military the world has ever seen. When something works that well just leave it be.

      The only country where mandatory service doesn’t lead to a complete mess is Israel. I’d imagine being surrounded by hostile nations along with the Holocaust 3 generations back changed your perspective on a few things.

      • Marc Apter

        And yet your volunteer force leads to government leaders going to war without the support of the American people, as it doesn’t impact them or their families. The ongoing involvement/war in IRAQ as an example.

      • DaSaint

        Conscription plays a role in many of our allies. I believe the Netherlands still requires service, and I know for a fact that Singapore does as well.

        Don’t think that criminal elements aren’t in the force now. Also, think of it this way: If many of our youth are required to join the service after High School, they may never get the opportunity to develop those criminal attitudes and behaviors, as the structures and discipline of the military could mitigate that. Unless you don’t think military training provides structure and discipline – as well as a sense of service and country – characteristics some say are missing from some of our youth.

        As far as expense is concerned, it actually becomes less expensive, as the conscripts earn less. This would not preclude folks from continuing to volunteer, but would instill a sense of obligation and service to country for all – even if just for a short 2 years.

        From a political standpoint, it creates pause in decision-making, as more would be affected by actions taken to put our troops in harm’s way, but that’s ok. Government should always pause and consider before taking action that has major consequences.

        Just my opinion, of course.

        • Secundius

          The Netherlands went to All Volunteer after 1996 and Singapore has a 2-year conscription with a 10-years call back (reserves) as needed service…

          • DaSaint

            Thanks Secundius. That’s why I said ‘believe’ regarding the Netherlands. I remember them having conscription, but didn’t know when/if they transitioned to an all-volunteer force. Singapore I knew, as I recall watching a program on their selection and basic training process a few months ago.

          • Curtis Conway

            When we pulled into Aarhus, Denmark the crew of the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) was to have the treat of a very long stay (several days with Dial-A-Sailor in effect) and got to meet a lot of Danes. They are a Gracious and hard working people. The Home Guard had their weapons cash at home (machine gun, hand grenades, and ammo). For us Texas we were right at home, and all say eye-to-eye on most matters. Really enjoyed by time there.

            Singapore is the Asian mindset which is a bit more disciplined. Not like the streets of Nancy Pelosi’s District, who just started the ‘needles in the streets’ and human feces on the sidewalk business of which Copenhagen learned never works some time ago, and now the Danes know better.

        • Curtis Conway

          Have you ever been to Denmark or Singapore? Context is everything, and both of those societies value service and sacrifice. It was Denmark that discovered that just handing out free needles didn’t solve the problem in Copenhagen. Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and a very orderly society with a lower tax rate than most.

          I once thought as you do, and I know of many a youth who could have turned their lives around if they had the opportunity to serve in the military first. However, for a society to exercise that level of control over its Citizenry in the ‘Land of the Fee, and Home of the Brave’ is antithetical to Freedom and Liberty . . . for ALL.

          • Rocco

            Amen kudos!!

        • Duane

          Small nations like Singapore or Denmark or Switzerland or Israel tend to feel much more vulnerable to military challenge than does the typical American citizen. They are in fact more vulnerable to intimidation or outright conquest. Not only are they small, but they are literaly surrounded by potential if not real enemies. Not only is the US large, but we are surrounded by friendly neighbors and two very large oceans. Advantages few other nations on earth enjoy.

          Those nations not only have compulsory military service, but also tend to have large reserve forces many times the size of their active duty forces, members being at least marginally trained and ready to drop everything and respond to a crisis.

      • Rocco

        Not in agreement!! The only problem with your mindset is it’s liberal!! Besides melenials weren’t raised when the draft was intact & not comfortable with it!! Well toooooo bad. You live in a free country to a point!!
        Earn your keep!!

        • Duane

          The United States has never in its history required its citizens to serve the government except for conscripted military service, typically only in times of active war. You may wish otherwise, but that’s not who we are as a nation.

          Besides, requiring everybody to serve 2 years as you suggest would be a monstrous cost, and hugely disruptive, and would deliver very little in the way of useful service.

          I remember the draft – it was a failure for the most part. It’s main function was to raise massive citizen resistance to the war in Vietnam, and to greatly lower the quality of serving members and the morale of military units. Hardly a result anyone would consider successful from a military capabilities perspective. Self defeating, to be specific. We could expect pretty much the exact same result for any other service that is non-military.

          No existing military leader advocates for a return of an active conscripted force .. and there is no constituency to mandate government service to any other function of government.

        • Keitel

          Yes exactly. If you don’t care enough about your country to serve, then move to Calif.

      • old guy

        As a WW2 vet, I take serious umbrage with your statements. I support 1 to 2 year mandatory government service, either military or Dept. of Interior jobs.I agree with Mr. DeSaint, except for the period of service. Terms over 2 years should be voluntary. Part of the compensation could be support for adsvanced education.

        • Keitel

          One year is definitely not enough. By the time you finally got settled in, you would be close to getting out.

    • Ed L

      I think the a mandatory 2 year federal service not solely military (park service, government projects, state approved project , etc.) being paid a wage of an E-1 for six months then E-2 for 6 to 12 months finally E-3 pay till their contact expires.

    • Rocco


  • Secundius

    The last time the US House of Representatives submitted a “New Draft Act” was in November 2017! It DIED a quick death, by those that actually submitted the “Act” in the first place…

  • Secundius

    12 Stat.731: The Enrollment Act of 3 March 1863 (i.e. aka “A Rich Man’s War and A Poor Man’s Fight” Act). Which paid Head Money of ~$300.00 (1863) for anyone willing to take the place of those that didn’t want to fight in the Civil War (i.e. the Rich and those with Political Influence). Irish just coming off the Boats from Ireland especially…

  • Secundius

    S.21 – 116th Congress (2019-2020) Pay Our Coast Guard Act
    ( https : // www . congress . gov / bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/21 )

    H.R.367 – Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act of 2019
    ( https : // www . congress . gov / bill/116th-congress/house-bill/367 )

  • Duane

    The skills needed for 21st century warfare do not lend themselves to a conscript military force. We have no use for “cannon fodder”.

    We need a relatively small (relative to World War Two era, or Cold War era) force of highly trained, highly motivated, well supported warriors.

    I began my Navy service in the Vietnam War era, when many of those enlisting in the Navy were doing so to avoid being drafted by the Army to fight in VN. The quality of the Naval enlisted ranks in those days was far below what it is today. That I served in the all volunteer submarine force, and furthermore served as a nuke, we didn’t get those dregs on our particular boat or other nuke boats, but every time I interacted outside of the submarine force, it was pretty apparent the huge gulf between the skimmer enlisted and sub enlisted.

    More recently, family members in career military service told me that the overall quality of recruits suffered a great deal during the recent large scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has gradually improved as the scale of wartime deployments was brought down. They would not care to see us go to a conscript force, which would be far less capable than what became the norm a decade and a half ago.

    Today the entire Navy, including the surface fleet, is much more technologically oriented than it was back in my day. The Navy is transitioning to ever smaller, ever more capable crews on the surface combatants, and that makes conscripts even much less useful than a few decades ago.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Facts are stubborn things. In WWII, the population of this country was around 140 million people. Out of that, over 15 million were put in uniform. That’s just over 10% of the population. That does not count government types, and it does not include the massive amounts of people and industry dedicated to the war effort. Today, there are over 325 million people in the USA. That’s way more than double what was here in the 40s. Yet, I personally seriously doubt that we could put anywhere near as many folks in uniform as was done on WWII. You can count on lots of ‘conscientious objectors’, even from those who hate religion as it is. It would be interesting to see who is declared ‘eligible’ given the restrictions in place now. If we had ti depend on the draft we would indeed be up the proverbial creek.

  • Lee Urbani

    I was born in a small town, left high school, joined the Navy and served in a war zone in 1967/68 (guess where). I have no way of knowing if my experience is typical but after I received my discharge I went to college, built a family and had a great business career. I think a large part of my life was molded by those experiences, which would not have happened without those life lessons learned in the Navy. However, now I see mandatory service to our country from a different angle. Our society seems to be more segmented we must begin to bridge those gaps and perhaps to heal those gaps it would be a good idea to allow a young people to decide wether or not to join the military or serve in a domestic role such as a recreation of the Civilian Conservation Corp. (realizing that the current needs of our military require advanced training or skills that take more than a 2 year enlistment to master and planting trees or laboring on a construction site is quicker to learn) Our infrastructure is in bad shape our cities are crumbling we need refreshed national parks etc, etc.. Real work and an experience of service to our nation builds character! But here’s the new idea that might go a long way in helping to fix or heal our culture. You assign young folks from the rural areas into the metro areas and metro young men and women to the rural areas. In this way they would or could have some experiences they don’t now have. And, that’s a chance to get to understand the difficulties of growing up on the mean streets of Baltimore (or any other city in the US) Or growing up in a small town with limited opportunities for advancing beyond your current social level. They may begin to gain empathy for other social situations and be less quick to hate! I know I went from the military argument to the other side in this simple paragraph but my typing skills are limited.