Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

This website presents information for both voluntary and mandatory National Service.  This begs the question of which type of National Service does ANSA prefer.

Neither.

Americans for a National Service Act supports whichever program works best and gets the job done.  Our fundamental belief is that the key to solving our Nation's problems and strengthening our democracy is more involvement from average Americans, not less.  We also believe that in order to sustain that involvement there needs to be a system.  Other than that, we try to collect and present as many ideas for National Service as we can get our hands on.  We assert that all plans should be thoroughly considered and discussed.  That being said, it's ultimately up to you to debate and decide which ideas and programs you like best.  As part of this we encourage you to take the 'Choose Your Own National Service Act' Survey.  The results are being compiled.                                  

What if I don’t want to do any service?

This is an excellent question.

Hopefully, enough people will volunteer to serve so that individuals not interested in National Service can be accommodated.  How many people is enough?  That’s tough to say.  How many more good teachers and tutors do we need to make American education globally competitive again?  The Iraq War may have been a war of choice but the next war may not be.  What happens if the volunteer force isn’t big enough?  If global climate change is what some scientists say it is, how many Americans need to be involved in conservation and disaster relief?  How much time should you devote to your community so it’s the type of place your family is happy to live in? 

There is a simple choice here.  We can do these things or we can pay someone else to do it for us (which typically means higher taxes and putting more trust in bureaucracies).  And don’t be surprised if you don’t like the results when you relinquish your opportunity to make a difference to someone or something else. 

Some people feel affronted by the idea of National Service because they view it as surrendering to government.  Obviously, we don’t agree.  We see it as average citizens taking back their civil institutions and actualizing government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  At present, we’re having a difficult time keeping Americans (particularly young people) interested in and focused on the affairs of local, state, and federal government.  This inattention has resulted in many abuses in the last few years.  Our solution is to get more Americans involved via National Service (more ‘skin in the game’ if you will).  Implied in this idea is a lack of faith that voting alone provides adequate accountability, responsiveness, and results.  After all, what is casting a vote compared to doing?

All that being said, if you don’t want to serve then we hope you understand that American democracy will be poorer and less effective without the direct participation of your talent, intellect, and abilities.

Is mandatory National Service constitutional?

Yes. 

The United States has practiced several forms of mandatory National Service throughout its history.  The Militia Act of 1792 and the Selective Service System (a.k.a. the Draft) are the two most referenced examples.  Probably the most commonly experienced form of mandatory service is jury duty.  Also, it can be argued that paying taxes is a form of mandatory National Service.

One can reference dozens of US Supreme Court Cases that weighed individual rights versus civic obligations.  The most prominent case on this matter is Butler v. Perry (1916).  In this instance the Court ruled that the 13th Amendment does not apply to mandatory national service.  For further information on the legal precedence of National Service click HERE.

How is voluntary National Service any different than our current system?

This is a great question.  One answer is if we don’t administer voluntary National Service properly there is no difference.  Obviously, our intent is for that not to happen.  That being said, voluntary National Service will create dozens of new non-military service opportunities for Americans in all stages of life.  Also, Service Bonds, National Service American Dream Accounts, and educational grants create tremendous financial incentives for people to serve.  If we also adopt ‘gentrification of the force’ for the military we will get an improved Armed Forces out of the deal.  The functional side of all of this is we increase our capacity to preserve the environment, improve K-12 education, and respond to natural disasters.  This will also begin the cultural transformation that will put us on the road to becoming a nation that fully embraces national service as a key component of citizenship. 

If I don't believe in global warming why do we need a National Service Green Corps?

The short answer to this question is human overpopulation.  At the end of the 21st century human overpopulation may be the most significant problem facing the human race.  China and India are already there.  As for the US, we’re taking on 1.3 million immigrants a year and at the present rate of growth the US Census Bureau expects us to be a country of 400 million by the middle of the 21st century.  All of these mouths to feed exacerbate the Malthusian Dilemma.  The way to stave off future instability and conflict over the competition for finite resources is conservation and innovation.

This means public works projects to harness alternative energy.  This means policing the release of heavy metals, electromagnetic radiation, burned rubbers, plastics, and other synthetics, venting and leeching from industrial processes, the over-utilization of fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides, not to mention dozens of other dioxins and pollutants.  This also means retrofitting the places where we live, work, and play to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Standards (60% of our energy consumption is buildings).  This also means the protection and reclamation of waterways, greenspace, and biota to prevent damage to biodiversity, ecosystems, and the food chain.  The bottom line is the value of a Green Corps should still be recognized even if you don’t believe in global warming.

How can we afford such large government programs as are proposed by National Service?

This is the same question posed by the Federalists in the 1st US Congress in response to the Universal Militia System.

The answer is that the value creation of National Service will significantly outweigh its costs, and we have historical data that corroborates this.

The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (more commonly known as the Montgomery G.I. Bill) cost the US Government roughly $50 billion (2008) dollars.  Despite its huge price tag, it generated more than $7 for every $1 invested, not to mention its social and cultural value-adds.

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration employed over 8 million Americans and created 78,000 bridges, 650,000 miles of roads, 125,000 buildings, 700 miles of airport runways, and saved the Government untold billions of (2008) dollars relative to accomplishing the same work with design-bid-build contracts.

K-12 education volunteers with AmeriCorps have produced statistically significant improvements in student performance while alleviating school systems of the expense of hiring more teachers.

In 2008 the US Army will pay over $660 million in retention bonuses (up to $150K to retain an individual Special Operations soldier).  One has to ask if all of this would be necessary if we had a larger volunteer Army through National Service.

Last, consider the cost-savings potential of integrating serving-citizens into virtually every agency in federal, state, and local government.  Though our government(s) is made up of many professional administrators, engineers, functionaries, and technocrats, there are also many roles than can easily be accomplished by serving-citizens working according to a wage and benefits scale similar to junior-enlisted personnel in the Armed Forces.  Phasing in serving-citizens where it is appropriate for us to do so offers us a way of greatly reducing the cost of government.

Also, creating greater access for people to enter public service at various times in life (from post-high school to mid-career professionals to retirees seeking second careers) will give us flexibility even with the more professional roles.  Right now, the civil service system discourages individuals from moving in and out of government service.

Of course, none of this addresses the overwhelming intangible value that National Service reaps by getting all Americans directly involved in problem-solving and governance, reinvigorating our republic with the collective talent and resolve that will secure it well into the 21st century. 

The better question is how can we afford not to implement National Service?

How would mandatory National Service be different than military conscription?

Mandatory National Service would include the ‘A La Carte’ System, basically you choose how you will serve. 

Our government requires thousands of different jobs that serving-citizens could potentially fill.  All we have to do is create the opportunities and virtually everyone will be able to contribute in the way that he or she wants and will develop skill sets that can lead to the types of follow-on careers that each person is interested in.  It’s a win-win situation, and of course we anticipate that a lot of people will choose military service.

Why do we need National Service when the voluntary military has been working just fine since 1973?

The answer is that the voluntary military is currently not working fine, not because of the quality of our military people but because there’s not enough of them.  This numbers gap is the main reason why countries like Greece and Russia still don’t have all-volunteer forces, despite their desire to do so.

We believe that a National Service system where everyone has to do something will increase the pool of young people willing to serve in the military allowing us to preserve the all-volunteer force.  Of course, several questions accompany this idea.

Do we need a larger military (particularly Army and Marine Corps)?

Yes.  Of over 90 wars on this planet since 1945, only 28 have been conventional nation-state vs. nation-state conflicts.  We foresee nothing but low-intensity, unconventional conflicts well into the future.  That means less big, expensive weapons systems and more people.  Big, expensive weapons systems can hurt people and break things, but they don’t protect populations.  Soldiers and marines protect populations.

Won’t having more people in the military promote war?

No, that’s the beauty of it.  By involving more people in government all segments of our society become better informed and develop a marked interest in NOT going to war.  Simply put, the more people’s sons and daughters in the military, the less brash we are about starting wars.

Can we afford a larger military?

Yes.  That’s the hidden value-add of a large military; it actually costs less.  Here’s why. 

First, we’re talking about adding more soldiers and marines, not more stuff.  It’s the big weapons systems that put a dent in the taxpayers' wallets, not people.  One rifleman costs $20K to field.  One M1 Abrams tank costs $4.3 million.  That’s the difference.

Second, the larger military we have the less we have to rely on expensive contractors to provide all the services that the military should be providing for itself.  To offer a comparison, an experienced soldier (E-6 over 10 years service) costs $82 a day.  A Blackwater guard costs the government about $1,100 a day.

This lead us to our next FAQ.

Why should we add all these people to the government payroll when outsourcing is almost always cheaper?

The bottom line is outsourcing is not always cheaper.  In fact, according to Office of Management and Budget A-76 Studies conducted since 1983 (comparing the cost of government employees performing a service versus private contractors doing the same work), most of the time the government services are cheaper.

Obviously, one reason for this is private contractors (unlike government employees) always tack profit margins on to their costs.  That’s reasonable enough, but anyone who has ever bid on a federal contract understands that in today’s government marketplace of 8(a) status companies and small business set asides, prime contractors more and more do not perform the work.  Instead, they rely on 2 or 3 layers of subcontractors to do the job and that adds 2 or 3 layers of profit margins to the ultimate price tag.  It is not uncommon on a government contract for half the cost incurred to the taxpayer to be profit margins for the companies involved.  Our argument is that if you match serving-citizens against private contractors on many government services, serving-citizens will provide better value.

What if I don’t want to serve right after high school?

It’s up to all of us to decide the best National Service program for the United States.  Whether that means 12-month obligations, 2 years, or 2 years plus is one thing that will be hotly debated.  Another hot topic will be when a person should first serve.  One theory is to set an artificial requirement after high school because it creates the least imposition at that point and more importantly, you catch young adults while they’re still developing and imbue them with an ethic of service that will last the rest of their lives.  The other school of thought is we set an age range (say 18-29) and the individual decides when in that period is the best time to serve.  Many countries that practice a type of national service do it this way (South Korea, Greece, Russia, etc.).  One downside of this method is it makes accountability more difficult.