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Record 23 Percent of U. S. 18-Year-Olds Failed to Register for Draft This Year

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Washington--Nearly one-fourth of the young men required by law to register for military conscription no later than Sept. 30 this year failed to do so, the Selective Service System announced last week. The draft-registration agency said that 1,336,000 men who were born on Aug. 31 or earlier in 1963 should have registered by that date, but only 1,029,000, or 77 percent, actually did so.

Joan Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Selective Service, reported that about 800,000 of a total of 7,300,000 men eligible for the draft--almost 20 percent--have failed to register since the program was reinstated in 1980. Maximum penalties for non-registration include a five-year prison term, a $10,000 fine, or both.

According to the Justice Department, 183 young men currently face having charges brought against them in federal courts for failure to register for military conscription.

"By no means does this mean that the draft-registration program is collapsing," Ms. Lamb said of last week's announcement. "There is still quite a bit of time left in the year for these men to fulfill their obligation."

The law, which was proposed by former President Carter and passed by Congress during the summer of 1980, requires that all men born in 1963 or after provide the Selective Service System with their name, address, date of birth, social security number, and signature within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

Men born between 1960 and 1962, however, were required to register at post offices during specific time periods last summer and last January. Ms. Lamb said the Selective Service believes that many young men failed to register this year because they were confused by the switch in registration procedures.

Compliance with the registration program has become increasingly lax during the last two years, according to Selective Service statistics. Only 8 percent of the men born in 1960--who became eligible for the draft in 1980--failed to register. That figure decreased to 6 percent for men born in 1961, but jumped to 13 percent for those born in 1962, and 23 percent for those born in 1963.

The Selective Service said the latest figures represent the largest number of draft-registration violators ever recorded in one year.

About 24,000 high schools across the country received information packets from the Selective Service last week containing posters, brochures, and leaflets informing young men of their obligation to register and explaining to them how to do so, Ms. Lamb said.

Officials of the Reagan Administration say they have no plans at this time to abandon the all-volunteer armed services concept, which began in 1973, and to reinstitute the draft. Criticism of the all-volunteer force has centered, in part, on claims of the military's in3ability to recruit an ample number of men and women intelligent enough to operate highly sophisticated equipment. The Department of Defense, however, says 1981 is shaping up to be a "bumper-crop year" for high-school-educated recruits. Not only did the armed services meet 101 percent of their recruitment quotas during the first half of fiscal year 1981, but more recruits with high-school diplomas opted for a stint in the military during that time period as compared to the same period a year earlier, according to department spokesman William Caldwell.

The quality of recruits has troubled the defense department in the past, Mr. Caldwell said, but the problem seems to have turned itself around during the first half of this year.

"During the first six months of fiscal year 1980, 54 percent of our male recruits and 79 percent of our female recruits had high-school diplomas," he explained. During the first six months of the last fiscal year that percentage increased to 73 percent for the men and 89 percent for the women.

Mr. Caldwell said the biggest problem facing the armed services today is a severe shortage of non-commissioned officers, particularly those with technical skills that are attractive to private industry. The military hopes to improve its re-enlistment rate, in part, by offering service personnel a number of new financial-aid benefits for postsecondary education.

All aspects of the military-manpower question, including the possible resumption of the draft, are being reviewed by a special Presidential task force chaired by Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger.

White House and Department of Defense spokesmen say the commission is expected to release its findings before the end of the year, giving President Reagan enough time to analyze and possibly incorporate them in his fiscal year 1983 budget request to Congress.

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