53. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

    • Review of Selective Service Deferments and Exemptions

In your message to Congress on amendment of the Selective Service Act of 1967, you mentioned that you were “requesting the National Security Council and the Director of the Selective Service to conduct a thorough review of our guidelines, standards, and procedures for deferments and exemptions and to report their findings to me by December 1, 1969.”2 A NSSM to establish the review you requested is enclosed as Tab A.3

The Selective Service system has 37 million registrants, 20 million of whom are of draft age. Of the 20 million draft age registrants, 13 million are deferred, while 7 million will serve, are serving, or have served in the Armed Forces. The main reasons for deferment are:

  • —registrant is in school (2.4 million),
  • —registrant has a critical job (.3 million),
  • —registrant has children (4.1 million),
  • —registrant is serving in the National Guard (1.0 million),
  • —registrant does not meet the mental or physical standards of the Armed Forces (5.1 million).

The Administration’s plan for draft reform envisages selecting men for induction on a “youngest first” basis through a process of random selection. This reform will not affect the type or number of deferments and exemptions granted by the Selective Service.

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Deferment policy, however, has a greater influence on the distribution of the draft burden than the selection process itself. For instance, the “random selection” of registrants for induction will apply at any moment only to 1.3 million of the 14.3 million draft age registrants who haven’t served. The other 13.0 million draft age eligibles will continue to be affected mainly by deferment policy. Therefore, a review of deferment standards is needed to insure that standards of deferment and exemption are fair and internally consistent.

In addition to a review of deferment standards, your message to Congress also called for a review of Selective Service guidelines and procedures. This review would be useful because of:

  • —the lack of binding national guidelines on deferments means that individuals are often treated unequally by the 4,000 local boards;
  • —the slowness and complexity of the Selective Service’s procedures leaves individuals often unsure of their status and fearful of arbitrary treatment by their local boards.

However, there is some doubt as to the magnitude of these problems. The Selective Service does not believe that the inconsistencies and delays in its present system are significant.

The attached NSSM will initiate a thorough review of the NSC and Selective Service standards, guidelines, and procedures along the lines suggested by your May 13 speech to Congress. This review would be “low profile” with its Director reporting to the NSC staff and personnel drawn from the agencies. It has been coordinated with the Department of Defense, Selective Service and Peter Flanigan’s staff.


That you approve the attached NSSM to initiate a review of U.S. deferment and exemption policy.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–163, NSSM 78. No classification marking. Sent for action.
  2. On May 13, the President, in his special message to Congress on reforming the military draft, asked lawmakers to amend the Military Selective Service Act of 1967. Nixon’s suggested draft reforms included changing from an oldest-first to a youngest-first order of call, reducing the period of prime draft vulnerability, implementing a random draft, and reviewing deferments. He recommended two specific deferment reforms: allow undergraduates to defer induction until completing their college educations and permit graduate students to defer induction until the end of the academic year rather than the end of the semester. Some 6 months later, on November 26, Nixon signed Public Law 91–124. The measure included three of the President’s four suggested reforms: a youngest-first order of induction, a reduced period of prime draft vulnerability, and random selection. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 365–369, 970–971)
  3. Printed as Document 54.
  4. Nixon initialed his approval on October 8.