While they wait for Congress to appropriate draft registration funds and for President Carter to announce whether to register women, manpower officials are studying ways to oil up the rusty Selective Service machinery of the Vietnam era.
Civil liberties and antidraft groups around the nation are planning campus rallies, demonstrations, sit-ins, and telephone campaigns to oppose registration.
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts, warned Jan. 31 that a decision to ask for women's registration would be "highly unpopular" and might impede passage of the legislation needed for registration.
Said Leon Shull, national director of Americans for Democratic Action: "We will be working on Capitol Hill to make sure that Congress is not drawn into Carter's dangerous escalation of the cold war."
Hard-core draft opponents have been heartened by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's campaign stand against registration -- contrary to his advocacy in 1972 that a reformed draft system should continue when it was expiring.
"We will seek to defeat the $19 million appropriation necessary to carry out a draft registration," promises the Rev. Barry Lynn, chairman of the Committee Against Registration and the Draft.
"We will picket, teach-in, protest, and demonstrate in every major city. If registration becomes a reality, we will call for a massive national protest on the day registration is resumed, combined with a presence here in Washington," he said.
A parallel campaign by women's groups against registration of both men and women, and against President Carter's increased 1981 defense budget (to which many congressmen want to add more than the planned 5 percent annual jumps) was announced at a news conference here Jan. 31.
Administration manpower specialists, faced with what they think will be loud but not overly effective clamor, shrug and continue their active planning, assuming that funds will be raised and women probably will be included.
Brayton Harris of the Selective Service System says the President's Feb. 9 determination on women also will include what age groups must register. Since old registration records have been destroyed, he adds, if the President determines that all ages between 18 and 26 must register, then men 23 to 26 who registered during the last years of the standby draft would have to register again.
Defense Department officials, from Secretary Harold Brown on down, maintain that the problem-ridden all-volunteer armed forces can supply present needs without a draft, provided no major emergency erupts. But registration, they say , is needed to enable the Selective Service System to know where manpower and skills are available.
"A draft," said Richard Danzig, deputy assistant secretary of defense for manpower, "is an increasingly poor way to provide quality personnel. We favor scholarships and loan incentives to get people to enlist. With a draft, you may get quality people for short periods. But you will always have people who don't want to be in the service.
"Rapid mobilization would give the Defense Department a big problem training and equipping personnel fast enough to meet our goal [induction of 100,000 personnel within 30 days of a mobilization order]."
"The Army, for example, has 33,000 empty places in its training base at any given time. We need the hardware -- guns, ammunition, tanks -- and the people, the training instructors. These limits are far short of the Selective Service System ability to deliver people."