National Security:

DOD Should Reevaluate Requirements for the Selective Service System

GAO-12-623: Published: Jun 7, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 7, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has not recently evaluated the necessity of the Selective Service System to meeting DOD’s future manpower requirements for carrying out the defense strategy or reexamined time frames for inducting personnel in the event of a draft. DOD officials told GAO that the Selective Service System provides a low-cost insurance policy in case a draft is ever necessary. The Selective Service System maintains a structure that would help ensure the equity and credibility of a draft. For example, the Selective Service System manages the registration of males aged 18 through 25 and maintains no-cost agreements with organizations that would offer alternative service to conscientious objectors. The Selective Service System also has unpaid volunteers who could be activated as soon as a draft is enacted to review claims for deferment. However, DOD has not used the draft since 1973, and because of its reliance and emphasis on the all-volunteer force, DOD has not reevaluated requirements for the Selective Service System since 1994, although significant changes to the national security environment have occurred since that time. Periodically reevaluating an agency’s requirements is critical to helping ensure that resources are appropriately matched to requirements that represent today’s environment. Selective Service System officials expressed concern that, as currently resourced, they cannot meet DOD’s requirements to deliver inductees without jeopardizing the fairness and equity of the draft. However, the lack of an updated requirement from DOD presents challenges to policymakers for determining whether the Selective Service System is properly resourced or necessary.

Restructuring or disestablishing the Selective Service System would require consideration of various fiscal and national security implications. GAO reviewed data on costs and savings associated with maintaining the Selective Service System’s current operations, operating in a deep standby mode with active registration, and disestablishing the Selective Service System altogether.

If Congress disestablishes the Selective Service System it would need to amend the Military Selective Service Act and potentially other laws involving the Selective Service System. There are also limitations that would need to be considered if Selective Service System functions were transferred to another agency. Selective Service System officials said that while other databases could be used for a registration database, these databases might not lead to a fair and equitable draft because they would not be as complete and would therefore put some portions of the population at a higher risk of being drafted than others.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Selective Service System is an independent agency in the executive branch. Its responsibilities include maintaining a database that will enable it to provide manpower to DOD in a national emergency, managing a program for conscientious objectors to satisfy their obligations through a program of civilian service, and ensuring the capability to register and induct medical personnel if directed to do so. Section 597 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-81) requires that GAO assess the military necessity of the Selective Service System and examine alternatives to its current structure. Specifically, GAO (1) determined the extent to which DOD has evaluated the necessity of the Selective Service System to meeting DOD’s future manpower requirements beyond the all-volunteer force and (2) reviewed the fiscal and national security considerations of various alternatives to the Selective Service System. GAO reviewed legislation, analyzed relevant documents, verified cost data provided by the Selective Service System, and interviewed DOD, Office of Management and Budget, and Selective Service System officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD (1) evaluate its requirements for the Selective Service System in light of recent strategic guidance and (2) establish a process of periodically reevaluating these requirements. In written comments on a draft of this report, DOD agreed with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 26, 2013, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense sent a letter to a Director, Capabilities and Management, stating that DOD had completed the reassessment of whether there was a military necessity for the Selective Service System. DOD's conclusion was that there is no longer an immediate military necessity for the Selective Service System. The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary said that DOD has no operational plans that envision mobilization at a level that would require conscription. He also said, however, that there is a "national" necessity for continuing the Selective Service System because the registration process provides the structure for mobilization that would allow the services to more rapidly increase the size of the force if an increase was needed.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOD and Congress have visibility over the necessity of the Selective Service System to meeting DOD's needs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to evaluate DOD's requirements for the Selective Service System in light of recent strategic guidance and report the results of this evaluation to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation. As of August 2014, DOD has not taken action on this recommendation. According to the department, there would be merit in a thorough assessment of this issue, to include a review of the statutes and polices surrounding the current registration process, and the potential to include the registration of women. While the department stated that they would welcome participating in an assessment, they said such a review would be part of a much broader national discussion and should not be solely determined by DoD. We maintain that without updated requirements from DOD on the role of the Selective Service System, policymakers may face challenges determining whether the Selective Service System is properly resourced or necessary.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOD and Congress have visibility over the necessity of the Selective Service System to meeting DOD's needs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish a process of periodically reevaluating DOD's requirements for the Selective Service System in light of changing threats, operating environments, and strategic guidance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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