Is the military draft system on the chopping block?

The Defense Department hasn’t instituted a military draft since 1973, and the program that administers it, the Selective Service System, hasn’t been reevaluated in 18 years.

In that time, national security needs have evolved considerably and budget pressure is forcing DOD to consider all options for saving money – including changes to emergency military manpower.

The Government Accountability Office is recommending that DOD leaders take a critical look at the Selective Service System, which maintains the structure and database that would be used if there were a national emergency that would necessitate a draft.

Pentagon decision-makers say the system provides a “low-cost insurance policy” in the case of an emergency and provides other intangible benefits as well, but agree it’s time to reevaluate and establish a process for periodic consideration, according to a new GAO report.

“DOD developed its manpower requirements for the Selective Service System in 1994 and has not reexamined these requirements in the context of recent military operations and changes in the security environment and national security strategy,” the report noted. “Changes in the security environment and defense strategy represent junctures at which DOD can systematically reevaluate service personnel levels to determine whether they are consistent with strategic objectives.”

According to the report, Selective Service System officials say that the program currently isn’t properly resourced to meet requirements should a draft become necessary, and that a lack of an updated requirement from DOD presents policy issues for fixing the problems.

In the report, GAO reviewed the costs associated with three different options for the service: maintaining current operations, operating in a deep standby mode with active registration or disestablishing the Selective Service System altogether.

The budget to maintain the system as is would be roughly $24.4 million; on standby, $17.8 million; and to disestablish, no cost. Disestablishing the system would save an estimated $17.9 million in the first year with $24.4 million in recurring savings, according to the report.

Still, restructuring or shuttering the program would require “consideration of various fiscal and national security implications,” the report noted. Congress would have to amend the Military Selective Service Act and, potentially, additional laws.

DOD plans to implement GAO’s recommendations for review, starting with an analysis of DOD manpower requirements for the Selective Service Systems from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the Joint Staff and the services, the report stated. That report is due by Dec. 1.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.


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