WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2006(CBS/AP) The Selective Service System is making plans to test its draft machinery in case Congress and President Bush need it, even though the White House says it doesn't want to bring back the draft.
The agency is planning a comprehensive test -- not run since 1998 -- of its military draft systems, a Selective Service official said. The test itself would not likely occur until 2009.
At the direction of the White House, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson is making it clear he is not advocating the reinstatement of a military draft. He told a news conference that society would benefit from a return to the draft, but a few hours later, after the White House disavowed the remark, Nicholson issued a statement in line with administration policy. He said he strongly supports the all-volunteer military and does not support returning to a draft.
President Bush has repeatedly stated that the all-volunteer army would remain all-volunteer.
"We're kind of like a fire extinguisher. We sit on a shelf," Scott Campbell, the service's director for operations and chief information officer, said. "Unless the president and Congress get together and say, 'Turn the machine on'
The administration has for years forcefully opposed bringing back the draft, and the White House said Thursday that policy has not changed and no proposal to reinstate the draft is being considered.
The "readiness exercise" would test the system that randomly chooses draftees by birth date and its network of appeal boards that decide how to deal with conscientious objectors and others who want to delay reporting for duty, Campbell said.
The Selective Service will start planning for the 2009 tests next June or July, although budget cuts could force the agency to cancel them, Campbell said.
President Bush said this week he is considering sending more troops to Iraq and has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to look into adding more troops to the nearly 1.4 million uniformed personnel on active duty.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, increasing the Army by 40,000 troops would cost as much as $2.6 billion the first year and $4 billion after that. Military officials have said the Army and Marine Corps want to add as many as 35,000 more troops.
Recruiting new forces and retaining current troops is more complicated because of the unpopular war in Iraq. In recent years, the Army has accepted recruits with lower aptitude test scores.
In remarks to reporters, Nicholson recalled his own experience as a company commander in an infantry unit that brought together soldiers of different backgrounds and education levels "in the common purpose of serving."
Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, plans to introduce a bill next year to reinstate the draft. House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has said such a proposal would not be high on the Democratic-led Congress' priority list.
Hearst Newspapers first reported the planned test for a story sent to its subscribers for weekend use.
The military drafted people during the Civil War and both world wars and between 1948 and 1973. Reincorporated in 1980, the Selective Service System maintains a registry of 18-year-old men, but call-ups have not occurred since the Vietnam War.
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