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Records of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS)

NCMNPS records released in response to my FOIA requests

(more about the NCMNPS)

Federal advisory committees are required to deliberate in a fish bowl, but the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS) was created as an "independent agency" with its members as minimally-paid part-time Federal employees, rather than an advisory committee. This allows the Commission to carry our many of its activities behind closed doors. The Commission's records are subject to the Freedom Of Information Act, although with the usual exemptions in that law. I have made FOIA requests for the Commission's records of its meetings and events, and have appealed the improperly incomplete responses. As of the Commission's FY 2019 Annual FOIA Report, all of the Commision's docket of overdue pending FOIA responses was from me.

Those meetings the Commission has chosen to designate as "public" have been open, although the extremely short notice given to the public about the locations and times of most of these events has made it extremely difficult for interested members of the public from outside these few sites to arrange to attend. Most of the Commisioon's meetings have been closed to the public and unannounced. The Commission has provided as little information as the law allows (or less than that) about its activities, including who it has met with behind closed doors, what briefings it has requested and received, and the research it has commissioned.

The Commission has dragged its feet, taking alompost two years (and still counting) to respond to soem of my FOIA requests.

The Business Rules approved by the Commission in April 2018 provide that, "Minutes shall be made available to the public on the Commission's website to the extent such minutes or portions thereof would be releasable under the Freedom of Information Act." No minutes were posted on the Commission's Web site until 1 October 2018 -- the day after the offical deadline for responses to the Commission's request for public comments, and the day after the last of a series of complaints I made to Commission staff about their failure to carry out the Commission's directive. The only minutes posted or released to date are the "public minutes". The Commission actually keeps two sets of minutes, but illegally omitted any mention of the more complete "internal minutes" from its reponses to my FOIA requests, and illegally withheld them in their entirety (rasther than redacting them as required) even after it admitted their existence in response ot one of my FOIA appeals.

More details about what the Commision has been considering have been given in closed-door presentations to military audiences than in its "public minutes".

The Commission has asserted that notes of Commission meetings kept by members or staff of the Commission are not "records" subject to FOIA. Contrary to guidance from the National Archives to the heads of all Federal agencies that, "Content on social media is likely a Federal record," the Commission initially asserted that none of the text, audio, or video files it has uploaded to official Commission accounts on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms were "records" subject to FOIA.

At one of its first meetings, in November 2017, the Commission received an extensive briefing from the Director and other senior staff of the Selective Service System. The slides from this briefing (first disclosed four months after my FOIA request, and ten months after the meeting), include a summary (see Slide 6) of Selective Service System contingency plans for registering women for a possible military draft:

SSS contingency plans to register women for the draft

Tellingly, the budget estimate for registering women does not include any enforcement costs. There is no record of any consideration by the Commission, or any report or briefing to the Commission, with respect to enforcement or enforceability of either the current registration requirement or any expanded registration, military draft, or compulsory "service" scheme. None of the minutes of NCMNPS meetings incicate any meeting with the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is the department reponsible for enforcement of the Military Selective Service Act. In response to my FOIA request for records of communications between the NCMNPS and the DOJ, the NCMNPS said it found only one record provided by the DOJ to the NCMNPS, a report which noted that the DOJ receives more than a hundred thousand names a year of possible nonregistrants from the Selective Service System, but said nothing about what the DOJ does with these names or about any other enforcement activities or plans.

No Commission records have yet been disclosed regarding contingency plans for a "special skills" draft, beyond the contingency plans in place for many years for the Health Care Personnel Delivery System.

All of the recommendations to the Commission by the Department of Defense with respect to the Selective Service System were redacted from the record of the DOD briefing (see Slide 33) released to me, at the request of the Department of Defense:

redacted slide from DOD briefing

Records of other briefings provided to the Commission are still being withheld in their entirety pending "consultations" with the Department of Defense.

Records of some meetings mentioned in Commission records have been withheld without explanation. For example, one of the participants in an invitation-only roundtable at Harvard University on 11 May 2018 "referenced the robust discussion about mandatory national service that he had participated in with the Commission earlier in the week", according to notes taken by a member of the Commission staff. But that discussion of mandatory national service is not mentioned in the agenda or minutes for the Commission's activites that week, and no records of that discussion have been disclosed.

The Commission has claimed that pursuant to the Privacy Act, the names of those who submitted public comments to the Commission cannot be dicclosed without their permission, and that it will take the Commission's staff more than a year to redact personally indentifying information before releasing those comments. Hovever, the comment submission page on the Commission's Web site says that, "Please note that any information you provide on this comment form could be publicly disclosed." In addition, if the Commission really thought that comments submitted by the public constituted a system of records subject to the Privacy Act, the Commnision would have been required to publish a "System Of Records Notice" (SORN) in the Federal Register, which it hasn't done. Maintaining a system of records containing personal information without first publishing such a SORN would be a Federal crime on the part of the responsible Commission officials. Either Commission staff didn't really think that public comments constituted a system of records (and only made this claim up after the fact as a pretext to delay disclosing the public comments, which likely show overwhelming opposition to conscription), or they were committing what they believed was a criminal violation of the Privacy Act.

Which documents are significant?

Following a FOIA request (initially denied) and a FOIA appeal (successful) by a reporter for USA Today, the Commission belatedly began posting monthly batches of selected extracts from the comments and other submissions from the public -- munged, reformatted, unindexed and with most contact information redacted. The Commission has also been posting some documents, including selected submissions from third parties, indexed and labelled and in their original formats, on its Web site.

But there's been a double standard that, until almost three years after the creation of the Commission and near the end of its "consultation" process, resulted in a grossly misleading public record of the input that the Commission has received: Until November 2019, when a few members of the Commission finally held a conferecne call with a handful of anti-war organizations and activists, none of the submissions tto the Commission from anti-war organizations or individuals were posted individually or included in the index of Commission documents, unlike submissions from groups and individuals that supported the goals of the military and differ only about tactics for raising an army and fighting wars.

So if you consulted the index of documents submitted to the Commission, you would have seen that the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood submitted a statement that "men are better suited than women for warfare". But you wouldn't have known, unless you waded through hundreds of pages of PDFs of unindexed comments, that an interfaith coalition including the National Council of Churches -- by far the largest membership organization to express an opinion to the Commission -- submitted a statement asking for the abolition of any requirement for women or men to register for the draft, and opposing mandatory military or civilian service.

You would have known what the American Bar Association said about education in civics, but not what the National Lawyers Guild said in opposition to Selective Service.

You wouldn't have known about the two petitions submitted to the Commission and Congress, one with 25,497 and one with 12,611 signatures, both asking that draft registration be ended entirely rather than extended to women.

And you wouldn't have known about the statement submitted by the anti-war feminist organization CODEPINK: "Women's equality will not be achieved by including women in a draft system that forces civilians to participate in activities that are against their will and harm others in large numbers, such as war....It is irresponsible for the fight for women's rights to seek equal moral injury, equal PTSD, equal brain injury, equal suicide rates, equal lost limbs, or equal violent tendencies that military veterans suffer from. When it comes to the military, women's equality is better served by ending draft registration for everyone."

Even one of the two submissions to the Commission from members of Congress (in support of conscientious objectors) was relegated to the aggregated "public comments" slush pile. So too were submissions from the War Resisters League, the Center on Conscience and War, World Beyond War, Meetings of Friends (Quakers) in Boulder, CO, and Santa Barbara, CA, and the op-ed and book chapter I submitted as part of my testimony, among others.

From the selection of public comments that the Commission and its staff chose to highlight, you wouldn't have known that any anti-war voices had been raised to the Commission.

When I pointed this out to the Commission's Chief FOIA Officer, she told me that any bias or selectivity was unintentional. That's probably true, but the disparate treatment of input to the Commission from different perspectives is indicative of the implicit and unconscious, but pervasive, bias of the Commission and its staff. The debate they recognized as legitimate was over how to staff the military and wage war effectively. It was OK to argue that "we don't need a draft to accomplish the military mission", but arguments that we shouldn't have a draft because it is indeed necessary for certain (undesirable) military missions and because it enables the government to fight wars the people don't support weren't part of the acceptable terms of debate.

The Commission later added a new question and answer to its FAQ, attributing the difference in treatment to whether submissions from the public or from other organizations had been "requested" by one of the members of the Commisision or a staff member. The (damning) implication, confirming the bias of the Commission and its staff, is that the Commission and its staff had solicited submissions only from individuals and organizations that support the current U.S. militarism and war-fighting, and argue only within that framework as to how to staff and fight those wars. Unsolicited submissions from outside those terms of reference were accepted, but relegated to the slush pile.

To the Commission and its staff, arguments about how to staff the military were "signal" from those who are recognized as "stakeholders". Arguments about whether we should be fighting these wars at all were background "noise" from outsiders, and these arguments and those who make them were consigned to the aggregated slush pile of anonymized or semi-anonymized and unindexed public comments.

But that misjudges one of the questions the Commission has asked, and should be trying to answer. As I noted in my testimony:

This Commission's final question is whether draft registration or a draft are "needed". The implication seems to be that if a draft might be needed, draft registration should be retained. But that's getting it backwards. The failure of draft registration should make clear that a draft would not be enforceable or feasible, even as a fallback. If the Selective Service System is an insurance policy, it is one backed by an underwriter that has been insolvent for decades. If U.S. military plans or commitments to endless wars around the world might require a draft, but a draft would not be feasible, that is a reason to scale back U.S. military activities.

Records below are either as released by the Commission in response to my FOIA request, as posted by the Commission on its own or third-party Web sites, or from other government agencies or sources. Most of the files provided to me, as linked below, appear from internal metadata to be newly-created files improperly subsituted for the responsive records originally created and maintained by the Commission. Other discrepancies such as missing files and redactions not supported by exemption claims are noted below. Records acknowledged by the Commission to exist, but withheld as exempted from release in response to a FOIA request, or not yet released pending consultation with other agencies, are listed below with the FOIA exemption or consultation claimed by the Commission as the basis for not (yet) having released them.

"Documents" posted by the NCMNPS (includes selected public comments; see below for others)

Public comments submitted to the NCMNPS:

Other submissions to the NCMNPS in response to request for public comments:

NCMNPS formal hearings (see below for links to additional related to the hearings):

NCMNPS Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations, request, correspondence, and interim partial responses:

Legal background to the NCMNPS:

Records of speeches and presentations given by members of the NCMNPS:

NCMNPS meetings and events:

(For convenience, I have organized these by meeting and date, bringing together information about each meeting from all available sources. The links below include records released in response to my FOIA requests; copies of testimony and written statements obtained at NCMNPS public events; independent reports, analysis and commentary on these events; and records that have been identified as responsive to my FOIA request, but not yet released, either because they have been withheld as exempt or because they are still being "processed" for release or partial release in redacted form. The Commission has posted some of its records on its own site, and others on various other sites including Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Eventbrite. Other records including most of those listed below have only been disclosed in response to my FOIA request and are only available here. I've tried to link to the best available copy of each item. Note that many announcements made at the time only to selected invitees have been posted by the NCMNPS on its Web site in response to my FOIA request, months after the fact but with false and misleading backdated posting dates, so as to imply that the Commision had been more transparent at the time about its activities and plans than was actually the case. And in some of the copies of press releases that were disclosed to me, the Commission redacted the names and contact information of its "public" spokespeople!)

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