Registering with the Selective Service can be as easy as turning on the computer starting Wednesday, when the agency activates its online registration site.
Instead of signing up for the potential draft at the post office, and then waiting two to three months for a confirmation card, a young man with access to the Internet can simply log on and sign up.
"We're giving men yet another easier, faster way to take care of their legal obligation," said Lew Brodsky, the agency's director of public and congressional affairs. "He'll be hooking directly to the mainframe and when he hits the 'submit' button, he's going to get an instantaneous Selective Service number. He'll be registered as of that moment."
The law requires nearly every male U.S. citizen and male alien living in the United States, age 18 through 25, to register with Selective Service. Registration does not mean automatic induction into the military. The United States has not drafted men into the military since the end of the Vietnam War.
About 1.8 million 18-year-old males register each year. The agency estimates a 91 percent compliance rate among all men who must register.
The online program works by comparing the information entered against the government's Social Security database. After a match is made, the person is given a registration number and mailed an acknowledgment card within weeks.
The Selective Service began working on the program and its security features more than a year ago, as Internet access for teens became easier through schools and libraries.
Brodsky said the online registration should prove especially helpful to young men overseas, who until now had to find a U.S. embassy or consular office to register. It also should assist 18 year olds starting college, since one financial aid requirement is registering for the service.
"The financial aid office was saying, hey, prove to me you're registered, and the kid couldn't do it," Brodsky said. "Well now, not only can they verify him ... they can also sign him up immediately if he isn't."
Sandra Blanton, assistant director for George Washington University's financial aid office, said less than a handful of students this semester fall through the cracks because they lacked proof of registration. However, she said having the information online can't hurt.
Registration is mandatory for most federal benefits, as well as for government employment. Half the states in the nation also have similar laws that connect state aid or jobs to registration, Brodsky said.
"We're hoping that many men decide that this is the way to go. Not only is it faster and easier for them but it's obviously time saving and less costly to us," Brodsky said.
The Selective Service spends about $1 million in postage and materials reminding men to register. If online registration proves successful, it could help the agency cut osts, although Brodsky said it was too early to estimate by how much.
The government has been slow to set up interactive Web sites. Last year, the Social Security Administration scrapped a controversial online program that offered people access to their earnings and benefits records. Critics complained it was too easy to gain access to information on other people.
By Eum-Kyung Kim