The director of the Selective Service Administration is in Oregon and Washington this week encouraging men to register.
Director Don Benton, a former state senator from Vancouver, was previously the Northwest chair for the Trump campaign and worked on Trump’s transition team as a policy adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The United States hasn’t had a draft in more than 40 years, but all men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to sign up for the selective service.
Nationwide, about 90 percent of eligible men sign up.
Washington has a lower than average registration rate, about 84 percent, and Oregon’s is even lower, about 74 percent.
Benton said the federal government doesn’t prosecute men for failing to sign up, but they will be ineligible for benefits like federal student loans, training programs and government jobs if they fail to do so.
“If you haven’t registered by the time you’re 25, that door closes permanently on your 26th birthday,” Benton said. “And I think that’s the important thing that most people need to know.”
In recent years, members of Congress have questioned whether it’s still necessary to maintain a database in case of a draft and whether penalizing men who don’t register is fair.
Some, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pushed for a requirement for women to register following the Army’s decision in 2015 to open all combat jobs to women.
Last year, a bipartisan group of congressmen introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would have abolished the Selective Service. The bill was authored by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in the first Gulf War and the war in Iraq.
Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter Defazio was among the sponsors.
Benton said a congressional commission is reviewing whether maintaining the Selective Service is necessary and whether women should also be required to register. The Department of Defense is scheduled to issue a report on the subject in July.
Benton defended the value of maintaining the Selective Service, likening it to an insurance policy.
“Certainly, President Trump advocated the reduction in size of government during his campaign,” Benton said. “But when you look at the Selective Service, and its budget, you will find it is the most cost-effective agency in the federal government.”
The agency is staffed largely by volunteers, and its budget has consistently been approximately $23 million since 1983, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“We certainly hope that the conscription and draft is never required, and probably very unlikely, ” Benton said. “It’s an important part of our readiness to stand behind the all-volunteer military force that we have today.”