The Selective Service System is planning a comprehensive test of the military draft machinery, which hasn't been run since 1998.
The agency is not gearing up for a draft, an agency official said Thursday. The test itself would not likely occur until 2009.
Meanwhile, the secretary for Veterans Affairs said that "society would benefit" if the U.S. were to bring back the draft and that it shouldn't have any loopholes for anyone who is called to serve. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson later issued a statement saying he does not support reinstituting a draft.
The Selective Service "readiness exercise" would test the system that randomly chooses draftees by birth date and the network of appeals boards that decide how to deal with conscientious objectors and others who want to delay reporting for duty, said Scott Campbell, Selective Service director for operations and chief information officer.
"We're kind of like a fire extinguisher. We sit on a shelf" until needed, Campbell said. "Everyone fears our machine for some reason. Our machine, unless the president and Congress get together and say, 'Turn the machine on' ... we're still on the shelf."
The administration has for years forcefully opposed bringing back the draft, and the White House said Thursday that its position had not changed.
A day earlier, President Bush said he is considering sending more troops to Iraq and has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to look into adding more troops to the nearly 1.4 million uniformed personnel on active duty.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, increasing the Army by 40,000 troops would cost as much as $2.6 billion the first year and $4 billion after that. Service officials have said the Army wants to increase its force by 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps would like 5,000 more troops.
The unpopular war in Iraq, where more than 2,950 American troops have already died, complicates the task of finding more recruits and retaining current troops _ to meet its recruitment goals in recent years, the Army has accepted recruits with lower aptitude test scores.
In remarks to reporters in New York, Nicholson recalled his own experience as a company commander in an infantry unit that brought together soldiers of different backgrounds and education levels. He said the draft "does bring people from all quarters of our society together in the common purpose of serving."
Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat who has said minorities and the poor share an unfair burden of the war, plans to introduce a bill next year to reinstate the draft.
House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has said that reinstating the draft would not be high on the Democratic-led Congress' priority list, and the White House said Thursday that no draft proposal is being considered.
Planning for the Selective Service exercise, called the Area Office Mobilization Prototype Exercise, is slated to begin in June or July of next year for a 2009 test. Campbell said budget cuts could force the agency to cancel the test, which he said should take place every three years but hasn't because of funding constraints.
Hearst Newspapers first reported the planned test for a story sent to its subscribers for weekend use.
The military drafted people during the Civil War and both world wars and between 1948 and 1973. An agency independent of the Defense Department, the Selective Service System was reincorporated in 1980 to maintain a registry of 18-year-old men, but call-ups have not occurred since the Vietnam War.
Associated Press writers Sara Kugler in New York and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Associated Press