WASHINGTON — Education Secretary William J. Bennett agreed Wednesday to turn over the names of college student aid applicants to help the military track down young men who have failed to register for the draft.
Young men are required to sign up with the Selective Service within a month of turning 18 to be eligible for federal student aid, and Maj. Gen. Thomas Turnage, director of the Selective Service, said 99%, or more than 15 million men, have "lived up to their obligation."
But the new agreement between Bennett and Turnage, announced at a joint news conference, is expected to find thousands of student aid applicants who have either lied about registering or mistakenly believe they are exempt. They will begin getting notification letters in two to three weeks.
Chance to Comply
Students discovered to have dodged the system will be given a chance to comply but may be prosecuted if they still fail to register, Turnage said. A total of 19 people, many of them outspoken critics of a military draft, have been prosecuted for failing to register since the present Selective Service program went into effect under President Jimmy Carter.
"The policy is registration, not prosecution," Turnage said. However, "it's not beyond the pale, if a student has truly failed, that the student could be prosecuted," he said. Such a student would also lose his financial aid.
Bennett predicted a flood of letters from young men scrambling to comply as a result of published reports about the newest effort to complete the list for a potential draft in the event of war.
Tax returns, Social Security, state departments of motor vehicles and graduation lists are already heavily mined for names.
'Pull His Weight'
"President Theodore Roosevelt said that 'the first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight,' " Bennett said.
"One of the ways in which college students can pull their weight . . . is by standing ready to defend their country in time of need," he said.
Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.), author of an amendment linking student aid to Selective Service registration, said the reason for finding all men eligible is "equity."
"I have three sons," he said. "All three have registered for the draft. God forbid that there be the necessity for a draft, but we would like to raise the compliance rate to 100%.
"We're also looking to make sure those people who are registered get first crack at the federal dollars for education that are available."