Senate Joins House in Proposal for ‘Automatic’ Draft Registration

A Contrary to earlier reports, the U.S. Senate has joined the House of Representatives in moving toward a foolhardy attempt to ‘automatically’ register all draft-eligible U.S. citizens and residents for a possible military draft, by extracting and aggregating information obtained from other Federal agencies.

The proposal for “automatic” draft registration is among several previously-undisclosed provisions related to Selective Service in the newly-release version of the National Defense [sic] Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2025 approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and to be considered by the full Senate.

The 1,197-page SASC proposal for this year’s NDAA was approved by the committee in closed session last month, and only a summary was released. At the time, a spokesperson for the SASC told me that if “automatic” Selective Service registration had been included in the bill, it would have been included in the summary. That proves to have been incorrect: The proposal for “automatic” draft registration was included in the SASC version of the bill, but not in the summary.

Other previously-undisclosed provisions related to Selective Service in the SASC version of the NDAA include:

  • Exemption of women draftees from involuntary combat assignments: The Senate version of the SASC would expand draft registration to young women as well as young men, but would also provide that, “In the event that women are required to register for the Selective Service System or to be automatically registered for the Selective Service System, women may not be compelled to join combat roles that were closed to women prior to December 3, 2015, to train or become qualified in a combat arms military occupational specialty, or to join a combat arms unit.” This provision is, presumably, an attempt to mitigate the objections of pro-draft sexists who don’t want women drafted at all, even while they don’t object to men being drafted.
  • Repeal of Federal law disqualifying nonregistrants for the draft from Federal jobs: The SASC version of the NDAA would repeal 5 U.S.C. §3328, which disqualifies those who were required to register for the draft but haven’t done so, or knowingly and willfully failed to do so when required, from any Federal job. Lifetime disqualification from Federal jobs is a threat used to scare young people into signing up for the draft. But the requirement that nonregistration be provably “knowing and willful” has rendered this law an ineffective waste of effort for Federal agencies. A notice published in the Federal Register in February 2024 by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which handles appeals of denial or termination of Federal employment on the basis of nonregistration with the SSS, “For cases received by OPM to adjudicate, approximately one percent of these individuals are removed or denied employment per year on average over the past three years.” In other words, 99 times out of 100, there’s no evidence of knowledge and willfulness, and nonregistrants are able to keep their Federal jobs.
  • Senate confirmation of the Director of the Selective Service System: The Director of the Selective Service System (SSS) would once again be made subject to confirmation by the Senate. The Director of the SSS used to have to be confirmed by the Senate, and confirmation hearings sometimes provided a forum for questioning by Senators about SSS policies and practices. But the requirement for Senate confirmation for the Director of the SSS and many other “second-tier” office-holders was removed by the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011. The Vacancies Act, which limits the duration of temporary “acting” stand-ins for Federal officials, applies only to offices subject to the requirement of Senate confirmation, which no longer includes the Director of the SSS. So an “Acting Director” of the SSS can remain in charge of the agency indefinitely. President Trump appointed an incompetent political crony as Director of the SSS, without the need for a Senate hearing or confirmation. President Biden has not appointed a Director of Selective Service, leaving the SSS under an “Acting Director” throughout his term. The move to make the Director of the SSS subject to Senate confirmation appears to be an attempt to assert closer Senate oversight over the SSS, or at least its overall direction.

The version of the NDAA proposed by the SASC will be the starting point for consideration of the bill by the full Senate. But it remains unclear what amendments (which in the past have included proposals for repeal of the entirety of the Military Selective Service Act) will be introduced or considered on the Senate floor, or whether this bill will even be considered by the Senate in its current form. In some recent years, the annual NDAA has been referred directly to a House-Senate conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions before being considered by the full Senate.

What’s a near-certainty is that this “must-pass” bill will be enacted into law, in some form, later this year – probably by a lame-duck Congress after the elections – and that the inclusion of the same provision in both the House and Senate versions would make it more unlikely (although not impossible) for it to be removed as part of a package of compromises by the conference committee.

Practically, constructing a complete and accurate list of potential draftees and their contact information for provable delivery of induction notices from other existing Federal wouldn’t be easy, cheap, or ‘automatic’. The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS) studied the feasibility of “passive” registration for a draft based on other existing databases, but eventually ruled this out as an option. A staff report to the NCMNPS, released in response to one of my FOIA requests, found that:

“The integration of one or more state/federal databases for a post-mobilization registration system would be an inherently difficult integration challenge – particularly as the database compilation would be using existing databases and not fielding a new data collection effort. As Social Security Administration database experts asserted in an interview with staff, integrating data requires a high degree of synchronization, regression testing, and performance tuning… The Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) maintain the most prominent federal databases to use as a source of information for passive, post-mobilization registration. While databases maintained by both agencies are fairly robust in their identification of individuals, their ability to contact and track individuals is not currently a priority.”

Politically, registration and other preparation for a draft, by whatever means, makes war more more likely and enables military strategists to plan and commit to larger, longer, less popular wars without having to think about whether enough people will be willing to fight them.

There have been no hearings on the proposal for “automatic” draft registration, and no funding for it is included in the Selective Service System’s budget requests. There’s been no meaningful debate about this proposal or the reasons military strategists want the U.S. to have a ‘credible’ threat of a draft, even if a draft is inactive and unlikely.

Members of the U.S. Senate and House need to hear from their constituents, sooner rather than later, that you oppose draft registration, whether in its current form or carried out “automatically”, whether for men or women or both, and whether for combat or any other military assignments, and that you support (1) removal of automatic draft registration from the NDAA, and (2) reintroduction and consideration of the Selective Service Repeal Act as a standalone bill and/or as an amendment to the NDAA.

Edward Hasbrouck maintains the website and publishes the “Resistance News” newsletter. He was imprisoned in 1983-1984 for organizing resistance to draft registration.