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Special Message to the Congress About Draft Reform.

January 28, 1971

To the Congress of the United States:

On April 23, 1970, in a message to the 91st Congress, I proposed that the nation embrace a new approach to meeting our military manpower requirements--an approach that recognized both the necessity for maintaining a strong national defense and the desirability of ending the draft.

In that message I put forth two sets of proposals.

The first set of proposals dealt with the fundamental question of how this nation should raise the armed force necessary to defend the lives and rights of its people and to fulfill its existing commitments abroad.

After carefully weighing both the requirements of national security and the desirability of reducing infringements on individual liberties, I urged that we should begin moving toward an end of the draft and its replacement with an all-volunteer armed force, with an eye to achieving this goal as soon as we can do so without endangering our national security.

The second set of proposals dealt with reforming the draft system itself, while this continues to be needed in the immediate future to maintain our armed strength as we move toward an all volunteer force.

Now, more than nine months later, I am even more strongly convinced of the rightness of these proposals. Now, as then, the objective of this administration is to reduce draft calls to zero, subject to the overriding considerations of national security-and as long as we need the draft, to make it as fair and equitable as we can.

Over the past nine months the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Selective Service have initiated a comprehensive series of steps designed to help us achieve that goal. Average draft calls are now substantially lower than they were when this administration assumed office, and we have significantly improved the consistency and fairness of the draft system. We shall continue these actions at an accelerated pace.

However, to continue the progress that now is possible toward both goals--toward ending the draft, and in the meantime making it more nearly fair--legislative as well as Executive action will be needed.


Since my April 1970 message, a 7.9 percent across-the-board increase in the rate of basic pay has been enacted that will raise the pay of members of the Armed Forces by almost $1.2 billion a year.

Building on this base, I am submitting a number of legislative proposals (some of which were previously submitted to the 91st Congress) which, together with Executive actions I shall take, would move us substantially closer to the goal of an all volunteer force.

--I propose that we invest an additional $ 1.5 billion in making military service more attractive to present and potential members, with most of this to be used to provide a pay raise for enlisted men with less than two years of service, effective May I, 1971. If approved by the Congress, this action would result in a total additional investment of $2.7 billion for military manpower, and would substantially reduce the present inequity in the pay of men and women serving in the Armed Forces. The proposed pay raise would increase rates of basic pay at the entry level by 50 percent over present levels. Also, I am proposing increases in the quarters allowance for personnel in the lower enlisted grades.

--I am proposing a test program of special pay incentives designed to attract more volunteers into training for Army combat skills.

--Existing law provides that as general adjustments are made in civilian pay, corresponding increases will be made in military pay. In addition, I am directing the Secretary of Defense to recommend for the 1973 fiscal year such further additions to military compensation as may be necessary to make the financial rewards of military life fully competitive with those in the civilian sector.

--The Department of Defense, through Project Volunteer, has been actively engaged in expanding programs designed to increase enlistments and retentions in the services. A fair level of pay, while necessary, is only one factor in increasing the relative attractiveness of a military career. I will propose that approximately one-fifth of the additional $1.5 billion be devoted to expanding our efforts in the areas of recruiting, medical scholarships, ROTC, improvement of housing, and other programs to enhance the quality of military life.

--During the past year, the Department of Defense has reviewed the policies and practices of the military services and has taken actions to emphasize recognition of the individual needs and capabilities of all military personnel. These efforts will be continued and strengthened.


No one knows precisely when we can end conscription. It depends on many things--including the level of military forces that will be required for our national security, the degree to which the combination of military pay increases and enhanced benefits will attract and hold enough volunteers to maintain the forces we need, and the attitude of young people toward military service.

Current induction authority expires on July 1, 1971. While I am confident that our plan will achieve its objective of reducing draft calls to zero, even the most optimistic observers agree that we would not be able to end the draft in the next year or so without seriously weakening our military forces and impairing our ability to forestall threats to the peace. Considerations of national security thus make it imperative that we continue induction authority at this time.

Normally, the Congress has extended induction authority for four year intervals. I propose that this Congress extend induction authority for two years, to July I, 1973. We shall make every endeavor to reduce draft calls to zero by that time, carefully and continually reexamining our position as we proceed toward that goal.


As long as we must continue to rely on the draft to meet a portion of our military manpower requirements, we must make the draft as equitable as possible. To that end I am proposing legislation to modify the present draft law, including the resubmission of recommendations I sent to the Congress last year. This proposed legislation would:

--Permit the phasing out of undergraduate student deferments, and also exemptions for divinity students.

--Establish a uniform national call, by lottery sequence numbers each month, to ensure that men throughout the country with the same lottery numbers have relatively equal liability to induction by their local boards.

In addition, the legislation I am proposing includes a number of other amendments which will improve the administration of existing law.

For the immediate future we will need the draft and, moreover, even when the draft has been ended, we will have to maintain some form of a standby system that could be re-activated in case of emergency. Therefore, I urge favorable Congressional action on these proposals to reform the draft and make it as nearly fair as we can for the time it is needed.

While the reforms proposed in our existing draft system are essential, however, it must be remembered that they are improvements in a system that will be used only as long as the draft is necessary.

This Congress has both the power and the opportunity to take an historic action. As I stated in last year's message, with an end to the draft we will demonstrate to the world the responsiveness of our system of government--and we will also demonstrate our continuing commitment to the principle of ensuring for the individual the greatest possible measure of freedom.

I urge the 92nd Congress to seize this opportunity, and to make the bold decisions necessary to achieve this goal.


The White House

January 28, 1971

Note: On the same day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing on draft reform by Roger T. Kelley, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and Curtis W. Tarr, Director of Selective Service.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress About Draft Reform. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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