Agencies Ponder How To Enforce Draft Regulations
Washington--President Reagan's recent decision to continue peacetime draft registration for 18-year-old men has raised serious questions for federal officials responsible for enforcement of the law, namely: How to inform students of their responsibility to register and how to identify and deal with those who refuse to do so?
Officials at the Selective Service and the Justice Department, where discussions on those topics are well underway, say that schools could play an important role in informing students of their legal obligation to sign up for the draft and in helping to track down violators of the law.
The registration law requires young men to sign up for military conscription within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Conviction on charges of failure to register could result in a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
According to the Selective Service, Census Bureau data indicate that approximately 800,000 out of 7.4 million young men eligible for military conscription have failed to register since the program was reinstated by former President Carter in July 1980.
The percentage of nonregistrants, moreover, has increased steadily in the 18 months that the registration law has been in effect and now stands at 33 percent--the lowest rate of compliance with a draft-registration law in the nation's history.
Joan Lamb, a public-information specialist for the Selective Service, said that for the time being the draft agency will continue sending high-school administrators "public-relations packages" containing posters and handouts that explain the registration law and warn young men of penalties for noncompliance.
Ms. Lamb said that more than 24,000 information packages have been sent to high-school principals across the country; a revised edition, she added, is now in the process of being created.
"We expect the rate of compliance with the law to climb up to about 98 percent as a result of the President's announcement," Ms. Lamb said. Selective Service officials have said in the past that uncertainty about the registration program's future probably prompted many young men to decide not to register.
Ms. Lamb also said that currently "there is no way of knowing" whether or not the Selective Service and the Justice Department could begin asking school administrators to turn over student registration lists in order to help draft boards track down young men who continue to defy the registration law--a group that could number as many as 150,000 if 2 percent of those eligible refuse to register, as predicted by the draft-registration agency.
"Talks between the Selective Service and the Justice Department are still underway and no final decision has been made on an enforcement plan," Ms. Lamb said. "We're looking at all possible options."
The Family Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 prevents schools from turning over comprehensive student records to anyone without prior consent from the student's parents or the student himself if he has already reached age 18.
Education-association officials, however, point out that an exemption in the law allows schools to distribute "directory information"--names, addresses, birthdates, dates of attendance, and telephone num-bers--at their own discretion. This, they say, is the type of information that the Selective Service and the Justice Department would most likely request if they decide to enlist schools' help in seeking out draft-registration evaders.
Ivan Gluckman, legal counsel for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (nassp), said his organization has a longstanding policy of advising school officials not to release student directory information to any organizations, including the military.
"Our position is that everybody who requests this information has a good story to back them up," Mr. Gluckman explained.
"But it's also a fact that all too often secondary-school students are a captive audience for unwanted solicitation," he continued. "We just feel it's in the best interest of all parties involved if schools refrain from becoming conduits of information about students."
Mr. Gluckman also pointed out that schools in states where legislatures have passed "sunshine laws" could unwittingly wind up being forced to distribute information about students to all persons requesting it whether they want to or not simply by granting a single organization's request.
"Let's say that a school gives this information to one group but not to another," he said. "The group that had its request denied can go to court and say, 'According to the state sunshine law, if you release public information to one person, you're required to release it to everyone who asks for it.' The school would have no option but to comply."
President Reagan, reversing a pledge he made as a candidate for office in 1980, announced his decision to continue draft registration on Jan. 7 on the advice of a special panel of military advisers.
The President said that continuation of registration "does not foreshadow a return to the draft."
Opponents of the draft sign-up were quick to criticize the President's decision.
"This confirms what many informed people have suspected for some time, that the President would break his campaign promise and make draft registration a fact of American life," said Warren W. Hoover, executive director of the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors.
Mr. Hoover also said that the President's decision "poses a massive problem of prosecution of nonregistrants that threatens to tear apart our society in the same way that previous draft prosecutions have." Barry Lynn, president of Draft Action, a group that opposes registration, added that the decision "puts the President on a collision course with a generation of draft-age men."
"He will need to impose the equivalent of martial law in America to track down and prosecute and imprison more than one million nonregistrants," Mr. Lynn said.
At present, the Selective Service says that it knows the identities of only 150 alleged nonregistrants; that information, a spokesman said, came to them primarily by means of unsolicited letters from "concerned citizens."
Last month, the Justice Department was on the verge of asking federal grand juries in several cities to begin investigating the alleged draft-registration resisters for possible indictment, but the agency was ordered by the White House to suspend its activities temporarily pending the President's final decision on the program.
John Russell, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said last week that his agency has been told to delay its enforcement activities pending the end of a grace period for delinquent registrants.
The length of the grace period had not been announced by press time. Sources within the department said, however, that it probably would not last beyond March 1.