Dec. 22, 2006 — -- The Selective Service plans to test its operational system in case the United States again opts to draft young American men into military service -- a test laden with meaning as the Bush administration considers increasing the size of the military and a surge of new troops in Iraq.
Preparations for the new test, slated for 2009, will begin in June. But Selective Service officials, who have been overwhelmed with telephone inquiries over the news, are quick to say that this test is merely a routine exercise.
"The whole thing's a tempest in a teapot," agency spokesman Dick Flahavan said. "We're not getting ready to spring a draft."
The Bush administration has opposed a draft, with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying the current all-volunteer force is adequate and more effective. But the prospect of a draft has been increasingly controversial as the three-year-old war in Iraq grows progressively more unpopular with the American public.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson on Thursday told reporters that "society would benefit" under a renewed draft, though he later said he did not support bringing it back.
Democrats opposed to the Iraq war have used the threat of a new draft to draw Americans' attention to the stakes of the conflict. Incoming Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said last month that he plans to reintroduce legislation in the 110th Congress to reinstate the draft.
The test was announced as President Bush appears likely to declare a surge of 30,000 or more new Americans troops to join the current 140,000 soldiers on the ground in Iraq to curb rising violence. Bush told The Washington Post that he is also favorably inclined toward increasing the size of the Army and Marines. The services have recently lowered standards for many of the 1.4 million-strong service members now in uniform in order to maintain current recruiting levels.
Rangel has offered -- and voted against -- the measure in the past. In October 2004, a month away from a tight presidential race fueled by rumors of a new draft, the Republican-led Congress overwhelming defeated Rangel's bill to restore conscription, 402-2.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., were the only members of Congress to vote in its favor.
Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said the proposal is not high on the congressional priority list come January, but she commended Rangel's commitment to the cause last month.
"It's not about a draft; it's about shared sacrifice in our country," Pelosi told reporters in her office.
But when asked directly if she supported a measure to reinstate the draft, "No, no," was Pelosi's answer.
The test is a dry run of the machinery that randomly selects men who are legally obligated to sign up at 18 and the bureaucracy that considers conscientious objectors and appeals for delays based on hardship.
The agency has run through tests periodically since mandatory draft registration was reinstituted in 1980 for the first time since the Vietnam War. But it hasn't tested the system since 1998 due to funding shortages, Flahavan said. The organization's budget has slipped from about $28 million in the 1980s to $24 million in 2006. So the test, last planned for 2005, has also been delayed, Flahavan said.
"The year 2009 seemed like the closest time we could do it given resources and manpower," Flahavan said. "It may not even happen then depending on what we look like in 2008."
The agency has a full-time staff of 150 but would need 6,000 to carry out a draft. Another 11,000 part-time officials in 2,000 local draft boards and state headquarters have been designated, but only do annual training in case of a draft, agency officials said.
"My title's bigger than my staff," quips Flahavan, associate director for public affairs. "Most of our structure doesn't exist during peacetime because there is no draft."
ABC News' Nitya Venkataraman contributed to this report.