If Congress votes the needed funds -- and most analysts believe it will after sharp debate -- the US Selective Service System, sleeping in "deep standby" since the Vietnam war, will reawaken.
President Carter's order to "revitalize" draft machinery means that about 16 million yound men aged 18 to 26 soon may have to register for the first time since 1973.
Mr. Carter and top administration aides have made it clear, however, that this does not necessarily mean a resumption of the draft. Since 1973 the military service in the US has been voluntary -- in what is known as the All-Volunteer Forces (AVF).
"I hope," the President said in his State of the Union speech, "that it won't be necessary to reimpose the draft." But world crises, he said, might lead to an emergency, and "we must be prepared for that possibility."
Mr. Carter needs no new authority from Congress to initiate draft registration. He has this power under a 1971 law.
Women may be included in the new registration plan. Defense Department spokesman Thomas Ross said Jan. 24 that the administration's position on registration of women "will become known over the next few weeks." Earlier, Defense Secretary Harold Brown had said that there would be a "serious legal question" if only men were registered.
US military manpower specialists say that by restarting the Selective Service machinery, under director Bernard Rotsker, the AVF, especially the Army, would be ready to fill manpower shortages caused by recent inadequate recruiting and large shortfalls in reserves.
Opponents of registration, such as Sen. George McGovern (D) of South Dakota, are arguing that "compulsory draft registration is not needed at this time." Anti-draft forces outside Congress have begun rallying their supporters to bring pressure against the registration proposal through lobbying and telephone campaigns.
Draft registration could become a hot campaign issue, although Senate Republican leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, strongly supported Mr. Carter's announcement.Senator Baker expressed concern that Democrats rather than Republicans may try to block registration. Mr. Carter's chief Democratic opponent, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, publicly favored continuing the draft, with reforms, when it was ending in 1972.
The 1971 law requires machinery and personnel to be available to reinstitute in an emergency "full operation of the [Selective Service] system." The system inducted 10 million men in World War II, 1.5 million in the Korean war, and 1.7 million during the 1964-73 Vietnam conflict.
Manpower analyst Kenneth J. Coffey points out in a new study entitled "Strategic Implications of the All-Volunteer Force," to be published by the University of North Carolina Press Feb. 15, that the White House let its authority to impose registration and possible induction lapse in the post- Vietnam, anti-draft era of the 1970s. Registration activities stopped in 1976. Funds dried up.
At the last draft call in December 1972 (the last draftee was inducted in June 1973), there were 3,000 local draft boards, 55 state headquarters, 626 area offices, and the national Selective Service office here.
Now, only the national office remains, with a staff of about 40 in Washington and 50 in the states. Pentagon mobilization plan, called the "total force concept," puts recall of selected reserve units, individual ready reserves, and retired reservists ahead of inducting draftees in any emergency. In a "full" (but not "total") mobilization, draft boards should be able to deliver to the armed forces 650,000 young men within 30 days of a mobilization order.
More would be required in "total" mobilization for a major was lasting over 180 days, with an overall goal of 1,725,000 draftees inducted.
At present, Dr. Coffey and other manpower analysts say, the time needed to induct 650,000 draftees is 75 to 135 days, far longer than the Pentagon wishes.
To speed registration, Congressional Budget Office experts have suggested using existing computer-stored lists, such as school records or driver's license rosters, and calling on outside agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, for assistance.