Military draft registration: Goodbye to the draft board?

A new proposal would eliminate military draft registration, doubling down on the military's commitment to an all-volunteer army. Men ages 18 to 25 would no longer need to register for the draft.

Cliff Owen/AP/File
Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta hands the memorandum he has just signed, ending the 1994 ban on women serving in combat, to Army Lt. Col. Tamatha Patterson of Huntingdon, Tenn., during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Thursday, Jan. 24.

In the wake of the Pentagon's recent announcement that women will serve in combat roles and combat zones, the question arose: Will women need to register for the draft? That may become moot: Two lawmakers are waging a little-noticed campaign to abolish the Selective Service System, the independent federal agency that manages draft registration.

If the proposed law moves forward, no one would have to register for the draft anymore, male or female.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D) of Oregon and Rep. Mike Coffman (R) of Colorado say the millions of dollars the agency spends each year preparing for the possibility of a military draft is a waste of money. They say the Pentagon has no interest in returning to conscription due to the success of the all-volunteer force.

Here's a quick look at the Selective Service System:

– The Selective Service has a budget of $24 million and a full-time staff of 130. It maintains a database of about 17 million potential male draftees. In the event of a draft, the agency would mobilize as many as 11,000 volunteers to serve on local draft boards that would decide if exemptions or deferments to military service were warranted.

The Selective Service is an "inexpensive insurance policy," said Lawrence Romo, the agency's director. "We are the true backup for the true emergency."

– Men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register and can do so online or by mail. Those who fail to register with the Selective Service can be charged with a felony. The Justice Department hasn't prosecuted anyone for that offense since 1986.

– There can be other consequences, though. Failing to register can mean the loss of financial aid for college, being refused employment with the federal government, and denied US citizenship.

Mr. DeFazio says it makes no sense to threaten to penalize men who don't register when the odds of a draft are so remote.

Past attempts to get rid of the agency have failed, DeFazio says, because too many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill worry that closing Selective Service down will make them look weak on national security.

"There is no one who wants this except 'chicken hawk' members of Congress," DeFazio says, using a term to describe a person who pushes for the use of military power but never served in the armed forces.

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