Circuit

No draft now

There hasn't been a military draft since 1973, but Selective Service officials find themselves discounting rumors that one is about to start.

So it's a good thing the agency has a Web site — www.sss.gov — to spread the word that there is no draft and no plans for one. The agency's home page prominently displays a notice knocking down the rumors.

"Notwithstanding recent stories in the news media and on the Internet, Selective Service is not getting ready to conduct a draft for the U.S. armed forces — either with a special skills or regular draft," the notice states. "Rather, the agency remains prepared to manage a draft if and when the president and the Congress so direct."

Nevertheless, agency officials continue to refine plans to be prepared for a draft, as required by law, and to register men who are 18 through 25 yeras old. For example, officials at the Selective Service Data Management Center in North Chicago, Ill., are processing every registration they receive. Although young men turning 18 can now register online at the agency's Web site, many still send registration cards, and clerks must type in the information, said Bill Delaney, director of the center. He said the service receives about 2.4 million registrations a year, and the database — run on an IBM Corp. platform — is continuously updated.

But as for how quickly a draft could be instituted if necessary, Delaney said, "Call Washington."

Stamps 'r' us

On Sept. 30, U.S. Postal Service officials ended a temporary licensing arrangement with Stamps.com Inc., a business that lets people create their own first-class stamps. And for now, USPS officials aren't saying whether they want to continue the relationship.

People apparently liked putting pictures of their babies and pets on stamps. But company officials had to tighten restrictions on permissible photos after stamps of less-than-first-class taste were posted on Courtroom Television Network LLC's Smoking Gun Web site (www.the smokinggun.com).

People pay a premium for the personalized stamps — $16.99 for 20 first-class stamps, instead of $7.40.

Stamps.com officials said they had received orders for more than 1 million individual PhotoStamps since Aug. 10. But until USPS officials complete a 90-day evaluation of the experiment, no one is saying anything about the company's future.

Be prepared

It might be a good idea for the FBI to adopt the Boy Scouts' motto in light of officials' problems translating records for terrorism and espionage investigations.

Despite large increases in funding and staff since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, an audit by the Justice Department's inspector general found that more than one-third of the conversations involving al Qaeda operatives that the FBI has intercepted have not been translated. The report states that bureau officials lacks the translators needed to do the job.

Since the attacks, FBI officials have collected more than 123,000 hours of audio "in languages primarily related to counterterrorism activities," according to the audit. But the report states officials still have not reviewed those tapes as of April. In addition, more than 370,000 hours of audio associated with counterintelligence had not been reviewed.

This backlog existed even though the FBI's funding for language services had nearly quadrupled from $21.5 million in fiscal 2001 to about $70 million in fiscal 2004. The number of linguists at the bureau has risen from 883 to 1,214 during that period. n

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