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What is the Selective Service System?

redacted slide from DOD briefing


Presentation by the U.S. Army to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service including contingency plans for a draft (redacted version released in response to my FOIA requests)

The Selective Service System (SSS) is a an “independent” Federal agency that exists to plan, prepare, and train staff and volunteers to operate and administer a military draft whenever Congress and the President decide to order it, and to maintain a database of names and addresses of draft-age men to be used to send out induction notices ordering them into the military in the event of a draft.

The Selective Service System carries out contingency planning and preparations for two types of draft: a general draft based on registration lists of men aged 18-25, and a special-skills draft based on professional licensing lists of workers (men and women up to age 44) in specified health care occupations. In the event of either type of draft, the Selective Service System would send out induction notices, adjudicate claims for deferments or exemptions, and assign draftees classified as conscientious objectors to alternative service work.

Draft registration ceased entirely from 1975 to 1980, and the Selective Service System was cut back to “deep standby” status with only minimal headquarters staff and no local draft boards. But since 1980, all male US citizens and most other male U.S. residents have been required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday, and notify the Selective Service System each time they change their residence until their 26th birthday (although few comply with these requirements).

Today the Selective Service System includes:

  • Staff of the national headquarters, data center, and three small regional offices who administer draft registration, contingency planning, and recruitment and training of draft boards.
  • A volunteer Selective Service director for each state.
  • Volunteer five-member local draft boards for every county, district appeal boards for every state, and a national appeal board, largely recruited through organizations of military veterans, who would judge claims for exemption in the event of a draft, such as requests by draftees to be classified as conscientious objectors and allowed to perform non-combatant or alternative non-military “service”. There are almost 2,000 local boards and appeal boards with almost 10,000 members.
  • Almost 10,000 volunteer high school administrators, prison and parole officials, staff of job training and employment agencies, and others deputized as “registrars” to get young men in their institutions or being counseled by their offices or agencies to sign up for the draft.
  • “Reserve Force Officers” (RFOs), military reservists assigned to provide logistical and other support to draft boards and state directors in the event of activation of a draft.

spreadsheet of draft board members

In March 2021 we obtained complete lists of SSS state directors, members of local draft boards, district appeal boards, the national appeal board, deputized Selective Service registrars, and SSS Reserve Force Officers in response to a request under the Freedom Of Information Act. These lists are posted here along with ideas about how to research your local draft board and Selective Service registrars. This is the first time and the only place that this information has ever been made available on the Internet.

The national and regional staff paid from the Selective Service System budget is small: about fifty SSS staff people each in the national headquarters (Arlington, VA) and the national data center (Great Lakes, IL), and ten SSS employees in each of the three regional offices (Great Lakes, IL; Marietta, GA,; and Denver, CO). The much larger number of RFOs are, in effect, additional staff of the SSS paid by the military, but not officially part of the SSS. This hides part of the actual cost of the SSS in the military budget, and allows the SSS to claim to be a “civilian” organization even while much of the work is done by members of the military being paid by the Department of Defense. State and local Selective Service offices will be set up only after a draft is activated.

The Selective Service System maintains contingency plans for a general “cannon fodder” draft of young men (based on the current list of male registrants between 18 and 26) and/or a separate Health Care Personnel Delivery System, like the “doctor draft” during some previous U.S. wars, of men and women up to age 44 in 57 medical and related occupations — not just doctors and nurses but physical therapists, veterinary technicians, etc.— based on professional licensing lists. These plans could be activated at any time that Congress decides to reinstate either or both forms of a draft.

Most of those worried about their vulnerability to a draft are young men and their friends and loved ones. But health care workers — men and women of all ages — are at much more imminent risk of a draft. According to one military doctor, writing in a 2004 medical journal article explaining Selective Service plans: “A physician draft is the most likely conscription into the military in the near future.” In 2004, a Selective Service spokesperson said, “Talking to the manpower folks at the Department of Defense and others, what came up was that … they thought that if we have any kind of a draft, it will probably be a special skills draft.” More recently, in 2016 Congress directed the National Commission on Military, National, and Military Service — which was created primarily to study whether to expand registration for a general draft to young women as well as young men — to also study whether to activate the Health Care Personnel Delivery System or use it as a model for contingency planning for a “special-skills” draft for a wider range of occupations such as individual with cyber or foreign language skills.

So the more immediate issue may not be how soon the military might run short of cannon fodder, but how soon they might run short of doctors, nurses, and 57 other occupational categories of health care workers. The Selective Service plans for a Health Care Workers Personnel Delivery System (HCPDS) are quite different than those for a general draft, and could be implemented much more quickly than a general draft: health care workers would be presumed already to be qualified, eliminating the need for pre-induction physicals or other screening. Selective Service says that the HCPDS would, “Require minimal training for HCPDS draftees, because they are already skilled personnel.”

The Selective Service System told the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service that the SSS is “prepared” to register young women as well as young men, if Congress and the President orders the expansion of draft registration to women. But as I pointed out in my testimony to the NCMNPS, neither the Selective service System nor the Department of Justice has any plans, preparations, or budget to enforce the current or any expanded registration requirement, to force women to register, or to prosecute those who don’t.

The Selective Service System is not a law enforcement agency and has no police or prosecutorial authority. Enforcement of the Military Selective Service Act is up to the Department of Justice. Each year, the SSS refers several hundred thousand names of suspected nonregistrants to the Department Of Justice. Twenty of those deemed the “most vocal” nonregistrants were prosecuted in the 1980s. But the prosecutions served to publicize the resistance and the government’s inability to prosecute most violators, especially those who kept quiet. Compliance declined even further in response to the show trials of selected nonregistrants. Since 1988, the Department of Justice has declined to investigate or prosecute any of the millions of possible nonregistrants whose names have been referred to the DOJ by the SSS.

Selective Service death's head with mushroom cloud


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This page most recently modified 27 November 2021. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.