Potomac Watch: Administration's own actions fuel rumors of draft
By ERIC ROSENBERG
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indignantly scoffs and scolds about the relentless rumors that the Bush administration is planning to reinstate the military draft.
"This plot is so secret that it doesn't exist," Rumsfeld wrote this week in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City. "To my knowledge, in the time I have served as secretary of defense, the idea of reinstating the draft has never been debated, endorsed, discussed, theorized, pondered or even whispered by anyone in the Bush administration."
In a radio interview earlier this month, Rumsfeld denounced the rumors as "a mischievous political effort that's being made to frighten young men and women."
This may come as a shock to the Pentagon chief, but most of the rumors have arisen from actions within the Bush administration, which has studied how to expand draft registration to include women, target some civilian work specialties for special attention by the draft and extend the required draft registration age from 25 years old to 34 years.
These draft plans were discussed at the Pentagon on Feb. 11, 2003, by the chief of the Selective Service System, the federal agency that would operate a draft, and senior Pentagon officials.
At the Pentagon meeting, the Selective Service System's then-acting director, Lewis Brodsky, and the director of public and congressional affairs, Richard Flahavan, met with Rumsfeld aides responsible for personnel issues.
Those aides included Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; William Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy; and a top Army personnel aide, Col. David Kopanski.
According to a copy of the meeting agenda, the Selective Service System leaders reviewed the past 30 years of draft registration planning and then made their pitch for more aggressive draft preparations
"In line with today's needs, the Selective Service System's structure, programs and activities should be re-engineered toward maintaining a national inventory of American men and, for the first time, women, ages 18 through 34, with an added focus on identifying individuals with critical skills," the agency said in its February 2003 proposal.
The agency officials recommended formation of a government-wide task force "to examine the feasibility of this proposal" and design efforts "to market the concept" to congressional lawmakers.
The Arlington, Va.-based Selective Service System, which is independent from the Defense Department, envisioned the creation of a massive database that would require all registrants to indicate whether they have skills "critical to national security or community health and safety."
The database could then be used to fill key posts throughout the armed forces and federal, state and local government agencies in time of crisis.
Some of the skill areas where the armed forces are facing "critical shortages" include linguists and computer specialists, the agency said. As part of the expanded draft registration process, Americans would be required to regularly update the agency on their skills until they reach age 35.
The six-page proposal was initially made public after Hearst Newspapers filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
At present, the agency is authorized to register young men, ages 18 through 25, who are not required to regularly inform the government about their professional skills.
Separately, the agency also has in place a special registration system to draft health care personnel in more than 60 specialties into the military if necessary in a crisis.
Flahavan said Pentagon officials have not agreed to any aspect of the Selective Service's far-reaching proposal.
"We went over there, we briefed it. Nobody committed to anything," he said in an interview. "Those ideas are, in fact, dead. Nobody wants to talk about them. Nobody is interested in them" in the Pentagon.
Army Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a spokesman for Rumsfeld, did not respond for comment.
Rumors about the draft also have been fueled by the update of contingency plans for a draft of medical personnel in a crisis.
The New York Times reported this month that the Selective Service System had hired a public relations agency, Widmeyer Communications, to assess how to plan for such a medical draft. The agency advised that "overtures from Selective Service to the medical community will be seen as precursors to a draft" that could alarm the public, the newspaper reported.
The military draft ended in 1973 as the American commitment in Vietnam waned, beginning the era of the all-volunteer force. Mandatory registration for the draft was suspended in 1975 but was resumed in 1980 by President Carter after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
About 13.5 million men, ages 18 to 25, currently are registered with the Selective Service.
The issue of a renewed draft has gained attention because of concerns that U.S. military forces are stretched thin due to worldwide commitments.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, U.S. forces have fought two wars, have established a major military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and have undertaken peacekeeping duties in Haiti.
Potomac Watch is a weekly look at issues and personalities in Washington, D.C.
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