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Report and recommendations of the NCMNPS

Most of the report and legislative recommendations of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS) related to with military recruiting (including expansion of high school JROTC military-training programs) and various forms of voluntary service. But the reason the Commission was created was to try to find a politically saleable compromise and provide political cover to Congress with respect to the question of whether to end draft registration entirely or try to expand registration to young women as well as young men. Below is an outline, summarizing each point in my arguably opinionated paraphasing, followed for each point by direct quotes from the report, of the key recommendations of the Commission as they relate to the Selective Service System, compulsory military conscription, and contingency planning for a draft.

There is nothing at all in the report about compliance with the current or any expanded Selective Service registration requirment, no estimate or prediction of noncompliance, and no enforcement plan or budget.

The Commission’s formatting of its report doesn’t allow direct links to specific sections. The page references below are to those shown on the pages of the PDF version of the report, but it may be easier to search for text fragments in the HTML version.

(1) Retain the current Selective Service System and contingency planning for a military draft, unchanged except as noted in other recommendations noted below.

Recommendation #31, p. 94: The Commission reaffirms the continued need for a draft contingency mechanism to meet the mobilization needs of DoD during a national emergency.

After extensive review, the Commission reaffirms the need to maintain a contingency for mandatory military service in order to draw on the talents, skills, and abilities of Americans in the event of a national emergency, and to clarify the purpose of that system in law. The Selective Service is an essential component of the Nation’s military preparedness.

(2) Retain the current Selective Service registration system, requirement, and sanctions for nonregistration.

Recommendation #35, p. 96: The Commission reaffirms the Selective Service System’s pre-mobilization registration posture and recommends that Congress and the President maintain the Selective Service pre-mobilization registration requirement.

If the Nation is faced with such a significant crisis that it must initiate a draft to adequately confront threats, the Government will benefit from a ready, active system for quickly mobilizing and inducting personnel. The Commission determined that maintaining pre-mobilization registration mitigates the level of potential risk accepted by the Nation, ensuring that an adequate insurance policy remains in place in the event of a national mobilization while providing critical functions and procedures…. In particular, a pre-mobilization registration system better provides for other critical functions and for the infrastructure required by the national mobilization process.

Upon careful consideration, the Commission determined that eliminating or reducing the Selective Service System infrastructure would represent a significant and unacceptable risk to the Nation. The Selective Service System estimates that if the agency were in a standby mode or disestablished, and Congress and the President were compelled to activate a draft, it would require approximately 830 days or 920 days, respectively, to deliver the first inductees. This estimate is derived primarily from the agency’s experience with the 1980 decision to restart active registration. The Selective Service System also estimates that if registration is suspended, it would take one year after congressional authorization to deliver the first inductees. This time span far exceeds the current DoD requirement that the Selective Service System provide inductees 193 days after draft authorization, posing an unacceptable risk to the Nation.

Alternatives Considered to the Current System

As part of its comprehensive review, the Commission examined proposals for both voluntary and mandatory registration alternatives to the current registration system.

Previous proposals for voluntary alternatives to draft registration identified by the Commission essentially would have created an untrained, unorganized reserve force. Such proposals vary regarding whether to extend compensation to volunteers and whether those who volunteered to be available should have a legal obligation to serve in a crisis.

However, voluntary alternatives present several challenges. Uncompensated and untrained volunteer reserves who are not bound to serve would provide only marginal benefit to DoD unless it had additional knowledge of their eligibility or specific skillsets. In addition, because individuals’ interest in military service would have to be revalidated at the time of accession, such reserves could not provide value as a guaranteed source of personnel and would offer little advantage over a call for volunteers.

One alternative to mandatory registration that the Commission reviewed was the suspension of registration until Congress authorizes a draft. This policy alternative is also endorsed by Dr. Rostker, who served as the Director of the Selective Service System during the 1980 resumption of registration. In his testimony to the Commission, Dr. Rostker called for a registration system that is not activated until Congress authorizes the draft, noting that such a system could achieve necessary compliance rates in a timely fashion consistent with DoD’s timeline for inductions, as was the case in the summer of 1980. However, estimates of the additional time needed depend on a series of assumptions about personnel staffing and the amount of lead time provided before registration is authorized; GAO estimated in a 1997 review of the Selective Service System that suspending registration would increase the activation timeline by 24 days, and would add at least another $17 million to startup costs.

(3) Expand registration to women as well as men.

Recommendation #49, p. 111: The Commission recommends that Congress amend the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) to eliminate male-only registration and expand draft eligibility to all individuals of the applicable age cohort.

After extensive deliberations, the Commission ultimately decided that all Americans, men and women, should be required to register for Selective Service and be prepared to serve in the event a draft is enacted by Congress and the President.

After careful consideration of a diverse range of perspectives, the Commission determined that the time is right to extend the registration requirement to all Americans, men and women. Doing so promotes the national security of the United States by allowing the President to leverage the full range of talent and skills available during a national mobilization. It also reaffirms the Nation’s fundamental belief in a common defense, and signals that both men and women are valued for their contributions in defending the Nation. The current disparate treatment of women unacceptably excludes women from a fundamental civic obligation and reinforces gender stereotypes about the role of women, undermining national security.

Should future circumstances become so dire that a draft is required, it is in the national security interest of the United States to be able to draw on the best talent in the country for military service. Roughly doubling the pool from which the Nation might obtain conscripts would improve military readiness by raising the quality of those who might serve, as some women would be more qualified to serve than some men.

Given the national security value of expanding registration to include women, reluctance to extend the registration requirement to women may be in part a consequence of gender stereotypes about the proper role for women and their need for special protection. As Eleanor Smeal, then President of the National Organization for Women, articulated in 1981, “[T]he Government says that every man, regardless of any disability, must register, but that all women, regardless of competency, cannot.” She argued that this distinction creates the “myth that all men are more competent than all women” while also signaling that a woman requires the protection of men, leaning into the traditional trope of women as the weaker sex. Lucy Katz, a noted legal scholar, has observed that denying the obligations of registration to women “condemns them to second-class status and perpetuates an image of women that is destructive to efforts at real equality.” In the eyes of many, the exclusion of women from Selective Service registration is a form of institutionalized, Government-sponsored prejudice against women that must be corrected.

The Time Is Right to Register All Americans

Ultimately, the Commission determined the time is right to require women to register with Selective Service. This policy change represents a necessary — and overdue — step that is in the best interests of the United States. Requiring all Americans to register with the Selective Service System is needed to ensure that during a national emergency, the Government would be able to call on the talents of all Americans and demonstrate the resolve of a united country.

(4) Allow people who are denied benefits because they didn’t register for the draft a 30-day window to restore eligibility by registering, regardless of age (i.e even if they are age 26 or older, and no longer required to register).

Recommendation #38, p. 101: The Commission recommends that Congress amend the MSSA to provide any individual who has been denied a Federal benefit due to nonregistration with the Selective Service System an opportunity to register within 30 days, no matter the individual’s age at the time of denial, and to become eligible for the benefit denied.

After careful consideration, the Commission finds that a mechanism for corrective registration is necessary to mitigate cases of unduly harsh lifelong penalties for those already over the age of 25, while simultaneously encouraging greater compliance.

Offering a 30-day grace period for registration following the denial of a Federal benefit would remedy current inconsistencies and failures of the adjudication process. For instance, adjudication for individuals seeking benefits denied to them for failure to register (“civil penalties”) is not centrally tracked or supported with common guidelines used by the officials making these determinations.

(5) Do NOT add a box on the Selective Service registration form to allow registrants to indicate their intent to seek conscientious objector (CO) status if drafted.

p. 102 (not a numbered recommendation, because no change is recommended)

Taking into Consideration Conscientious Objectors

The Federal Government has historically provided alternatives for those who have deeply held religious or philosophical objections to military service. The Commission heard from many members of the conscientious objector community, most of whom desire a means to indicate at the time of registration their intent to apply for conscientious objector status.

Although they acknowledge that such a status review would not take place until a draft is activated, some organizations counsel young men on unofficial mechanisms to establish a personal history of conscientious objection, such as maintaining certified letters with their religious community and noting their beliefs on Selective Service System registration forms. The Commission therefore considered such a policy change that would indicate an individual’s intent to apply for conscientious objector status. While the addition of a “conscientious objector box” would probably require minimal expense, the Selective Service System expressed concern about possible confusion, during a draft, for those who indicated their intent to file for conscientious objector status by “checking the box.” Those individuals may believe that indicating their intent at registration would exempt them from reporting to a Military Entrance Processing Station or would guarantee that their local board would designate them a conscientious objector.

Ultimately, the Commission determined that harmful unintended consequences would make such a policy change ill-advised. In particular, the Commission believes that allowing an intent-to-file box might raise concerns about the fairness and equity of a draft. The ability to indicate one’s status during registration might also limit the credibility of individuals who later find themselves to be conscientious objectors, potentially giving the impression of a weaker claim because they had failed to indicate their status at the time of initial registration. In addition, some individuals would opportunistically elect to identify as conscientious objectors regardless of their actual beliefs, thereby diminishing the value and negating the purpose of such an intent-to-file box. However, the Commission recognizes the importance of the American tradition of conscientious objection: should a draft be authorized, individuals remain able to file a claim or appeal regarding conscientious objector status and may be given a temporary deferment, a postponement, or a permanent exemption under existing law.

(6) Have the SSS and the Pentagon conduct test exercises for activating a draft. but keep the results of those tests classified (in case they cast doubt on whether registration is useful or worth the costs), and make sure there is a public relations campaign to persuade the public that they test exercise don’t mean that an actual draft is imminent, and that they don’t catalyze antidraft sentiment or activism.

Recommendations #41-43, p. 106:

41. The Commission recommends that Congress direct the Secretary of Defense and the Director of the Selective Service System to conduct a regular exercise that includes the full range of interagency mobilization stakeholders to review total and mass mobilization strategic and operational concepts. The Commission additionally recommends that Congress require the Secretary of Defense to provide to Congress a report on the results, which may be delivered in a classified form.

42: The Commission recommends that the President direct the Director of the Selective Service System to periodically exercise the agency’s mobilization responsibilities.

43: The Commission recommends that Congress appropriate additional funding for the Selective Service System to accompany exercises with a public awareness campaign that communicates their purpose.

While the Selective Service System has maintained active registration since 1980, no significant tests of the system have been undertaken to assess whether it can fulfill its mission during an emergency…. Not since 1994 has DoD updated personnel requirements and the timeline for inducting draftees in the event of an emergency requiring mass mobilization.

(7) Make draft registration into a “solemn” patriotic ritual and rite of passage.

Recommendation #36, p. 99: The Commission recommends that Congress amend the MSSA to require the Selective Service System to develop and implement methods to convey to registrants the solemn obligation for military service in the event of a draft and to appropriate funds to accomplish this.

States could draw on an array of methods to accomplish the goal of increasing solemnity. For instance, registration could be paired with educational materials such as brochures or videos. More solemn registration efforts could require that registrants attend a ceremony, much like Virginia’s driver’s license ceremony for those under 18. The naturalization ceremony for U.S. citizenship is one example of a solemn ritual that the Federal Government oversees; others are enlistment ceremonies for the U.S. military and ceremonies marking entrance to AmeriCorps. Many other approaches could be effective in making the process more solemn. Regardless of which is taken, the Commission believes that Selective Service registration deserves a moment of earnest reflection.

(8) Retain and continue, but do NOT change or expand to other occupational or skill categories, contingency planning by the Selective Service System for the Health Care Personnel Delivery System (HCPDS).

(The Commission was specifically directed by Congress to study and report on the HCPDS and whether it should be modified and/or expanded to other categories of occupational skills. The key thing in the recommendations below is that do NOT include any changes to, or expansion of, contingency plans for the HCPDS.)

Recommendation #39, p.103: The Commission recommends that Congress require the Secretary of Defense to generate and maintain a list of the type and number of currently needed critically skilled personnel.

Recommendation #40, p.104: The Commission recommends that Congress authorize an Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) of personnel with critical skills for the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement.

Addressing the Need for Critical Skills

The Commission’s mandate included a review of mechanisms for bringing critical skills into the military. Fundamental to developing plans for inducting personnel with those skills is an understanding of current and projected needs. At present, no comprehensive military list of current or projected in-demand skills exists….

National security experts testified to the Commission that while the nature of a future scenario requiring national mobilization is unknown, there will certainly be a need for high-level skills in science and technology and other related fields. Using existing information, military leaders have identified personnel with health services, cyber, space, and pilot training as in high demand; however, additional analysis would be required to identify the full list of critical skillsets.

Assuming that DoD generates its list of critical skilled personnel, the Commission considered several alternative approaches to meet the critical skills needs of the Nation, including a targeted skills draft based on an existing model designed to provide health care providers to the military if needed and extension of the age range of registrants to the Selective Service System to induct personnel with more refined skills in time of crisis. Ultimately, the Commission did not support drafting individuals with critical skills but endorsed a system that would both harness the American spirit to volunteer in times of need and deliver an expedited and flexible method for the military to identify and access those with requisite skills during an emergency.

Considered Alternatives to Acquiring Critical Skills

In order to ensure that the military has reliable access to qualified health care providers, in 1987 the Selective Service System developed the Health Care Personnel Delivery System — a standby plan for registration of persons qualified in a health care occupation, regardless of gender, between the ages of 20 and 45, in more than 60 discrete fields of medicine. The plan, required by Congress, uses predefined relationships between the Selective Service System and medical boards, associations, and other certifying agencies to verify licensing and qualifications and to generate a ready database for a draft of skilled health care providers.

While the concept of a targeted skills draft raises broader concerns over fairness and equity, the Commission ultimately found that other high-demand critical skills, such as cyber skillsets, lack similarly specific classifications and do not rely on central licensing or certifications. Thus, the Health Care Personnel Delivery System model cannot be transferred to nonmedical fields.

Another potential method to increase the military’s access to individuals with critical skills would be to extend the upper age of the Selective Service registration requirement to 35 years old and amend the MSSA to require a multiyear lottery and selection process. Current regulations issued by the Selective Service System call for induction to begin with 20-year-old registrants and progress through each year group between 21 and 25, before returning to 19- and 18-year-olds. Because many high-demand skills are developed only after long courses of education or training, as well as professional experience, expanding the age cohort of registrants increases the likelihood of selecting an individual with a desired skillset through the same draft lottery that would apply to the entire cohort, thus maintaining fairness and equity.

However, expanding the pool of registrants — in order to include older individuals who are generally less eligible for military service — may add to the timelines associated with a draft lottery without necessarily yielding the required skillset in a rapid manner. Further, the President and Congress have the ability to determine the age of inductees eligible for selection at the time of draft authorization. As a result, the Commission found this approach inadequate to reach individuals with critical skills in a timely manner and of marginal utility to justify amending the registration age now.

Creating a Critical Skills Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)

The Commission believes the best way to preserve fairness and equity and sustain the most lethal and capable military in times of conflict requires enhancing voluntary mechanisms, such as through the creation of a critical skills IRR and a national roster of volunteers. Such mechanisms capitalize on the American spirit to rise to the occasion in times of crisis and are consistent with the Commission’s conception of the draft as an option of last resort.

A critical skills IRR would rebuild the military’s strategic capacity, enabling non-prior service members and those leaving active or reserve service to receive certain incentives to be available in times of emergency, while being subject to a less-regimented training schedule than that of the Selected Reserve.

Creating a National Roster of Skilled Personnel

The Commission explored the potential creation of a national roster — or database — of individuals who indicate their willingness to serve in a time of emergency and provide information regarding occupations, qualifications, and certifications, as well as baseline information regarding eligibility. Members of such a national roster would be prompted annually to update their personal information and indicate their willingness to remain available for a call-up. Unlike members of an IRR, individuals who chose to join the national roster would not be required to muster, providing a more flexible option for those willing to serve when needed. In times of emergency, the Nation could rapidly identify high-demand skillsets and call upon those individuals, who in turn would then decide voluntarily whether to meet that call and serve. The concept of a national roster dates to World War II, when the National Roster of Scientific and Specialized Personnel was developed and maintained to provide a list of essential professionals for the Government.

A national roster would offer several advantages, such as being more tailored to DoD needs than a Presidential call for volunteers, offering lower per-member costs than an IRR, and having the ability to scale across a wide variety of skillsets and qualifications. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates aptly reflected, the United States has “a perfect record over the last 40 years in predicting where we will use military force next. We’ve never once gotten it right.” In times of emergency, the military may have a pressing need for a skill that was not previously deemed critical. A national roster would hedge against unforeseen needs and provide a more efficient mechanism to identify and recruit interested individuals with needed skillsets. A national roster could be hosted through the proposed service platform. In particular, the Council on Military, National, and Public Service may create a system in which participants can volunteer information about themselves — including their skillsets and certifications — if they are willing to serve during a national emergency.

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This page most recently modified 18 August 2022. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.