It is a common misconception that the Selective Service System ended after the Vietnam War in 1973, when the United States converted to an all-volunteer military. It did not. The Selective Service is fully functioning today and costing taxpayers about $130 million a year.
That news may shock you, but it is no surprise to young males in Thurston County who are among the more than 16 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 25 registered for the military draft.
Nearly every South Sound male is required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18. That includes most foreign males, including illegal immigrants, the disabled and those who consider themselves conscientious objectors to war.
According to a 2010 General Accounting Office report, 92 percent of males who register fall within the legal requirement for military conscription. The federal government ensures a high rate of compliance because registration is necessary for a variety of programs and benefits, including Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and naturalization.
There’s another incentive: Failing to register could result in a $250,000 fine and as many as five years in prison.
It takes 130 full-time employees to maintain the database of potential draftees even though the United States has not drafted a single person in almost 40 years. Nor has the Selective Service prosecuted anyone for not registering in nearly 30 years.
So why are we cutting necessary services, such as putting 10,000 Joint Base Lewis-McChord civilian workers on furlough and closing the Olympia Airport air control tower, while spending money on the Selective Service? Good question.
The U.S. House has voted to eliminate the Selective Service in 1993 and 1999. Both times, a House-Senate committee has overturned that vote and restored the agency’s funding without explanation.
Congressman Denny Heck told The Olympian editorial board this week that he is examining a new bill that would abolish the agency.
Heck said, “Congress has to be careful about drawing a line in the sand on any sacred cow issues.”
Even the military says it doesn’t need a draft. In a 1993 report from the Pentagon, the secretary of defense said elimination of the Selective Service would have no effect on military mobilization or volunteer military recruitment.
Support for abolishing the Selective Service might gain new momentum this year, since the Pentagon terminated its policy of prohibiting women in combat roles. To register women, Congress would have to amend the Selective Service Act and that could open debate.
Instead, Heck and the rest of Congress should seize the opportunity of reopened debate on a military draft and do the right thing: abolish the expensive and useless Selective Service System.