The United States abandoned the draft in 1973 under President Richard Nixon,
ended the Selective Service registration requirement in 1975 under President
Gerald Ford, and then re-instated the Selective Service registration requirement
in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter.
Today the Selective Service System remains as a contingency, should a
military draft be re-introduced.
Under current law, all male U.S. citizens are required to register with
Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Certain male aliens
residing in the U.S., including those present illegally, are also required to
register if they are between 18 and 26 years of age. "Willful" failure or
refusal to present oneself for registration is against the law.
In 1980, young men who knew they were required to register who did not do so
could face up to five years in jail or a fine up to $50,000 if convicted. The
potential fine was later increased to $250,000. Despite these possible
penalties, government records indicate that from 1980 through 1986 there were
only 20 indictments, of which 19 were instigated in part by self-publicized and
self-reported non-registration. (As one of the elements of the offense, the
government must prove that a violation of the Military Selective Service Act was
knowing and willful. This is almost impossible unless the prospective defendant
has publicly stated that he knew he was required to register or report for
induction, or unless he has been visited by the FBI, personally served with
notice to register or report for induction, and given another chance to comply.)
The last prosecution for nonregistration was in January 1986, after which many
believed the government declined to continue prosecutions when it became
apparent that the trials were themselves causing a decline in registration. By
1984, 13% of 18 year old men were not registering.
As an alternative method of encouraging registration, federal legislators and
most state legislators passed laws requiring that to receive financial aid,
federal grants and loans, and certain government benefits, a young man had to be
registered with Selective Service. Organized efforts to aid those losing
benefits include Fund for Education and Training (FEAT) and Student
Aid Fund for Nonregistrants.
In the current registration system one cannot indicate that he is a
conscientious objector (CO) to war when registering, but he can make such a
claim when being drafted. Some men choose to write on the registration card I
am a conscientious objector to war to document their conviction, even though
the government will not have such a classification until there is a draft.
Today, the most likely form of draft is a one of health care workers. In
1987, Congress ordered the Selective Service System to put in place a system
capable of drafting "persons qualified for practice or employment in a health
care occupation", if such a special-skills draft should be ordered by Congress.
In response, Selective Service published plans for the "Health Care Personnel
Delivery System" (HCPDS) in 1989 and has had them ready ever since. The concept
underwent a preliminary field exercise in Fiscal Year 1998, followed by a more
extensive nationwide readiness exercise in Fiscal Year 1999. The HCPDS plans
include women and men age 20–54 in 57 job categories.