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Congressional Nominations to U.S. Service Academies: An Overview and Resources for Outreach and Management

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Publication Date: January 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33213

Topic: Military and defense (Military service)


Members of Congress are authorized by law to nominate candidates for appointment to four U.S. service academies. These schools are the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The fifth service academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, does not require a congressional nomination for appointment. These institutions prepare college-age Americans to be officers of the United States uniformed services. Upon graduation, service academy graduates are commissioned as officers in the active or reserve components of the military, the merchant marine, or the U.S. Coast Guard for a minimum of five years.

The nomination of constituents to one of the service academies can provide Members of Congress with the opportunity to perform community outreach and other representational duties. In some states and congressional districts, nominations are highly competitive. Others are less competitive, and some offices do not receive expressions of interest from enough applicants to fill the number of nominations allocated. Consequently, some congressional offices might need to dedicate considerable staff resources to the selection process to identify qualified candidates, whereas others can incorporate service academy nominations alongside other constituent service work such as casework.

The nomination authorities, number of appointments, and criteria establishing the qualifications of potential service academy appointees are set by statute and policies established by each academy. No laws or regulations govern congressional nomination processes, as long as nominations are submitted by deadlines established by the academies and comply with chamber ethics rules. Each congressional office with nominating authority may develop its own process for managing its service academy nominations. Each office has the discretion to determine how to administer the decision-making process. Some offices handle nominations internally, assigning the task of managing applicant files and developing nominations recommendations to a staff member. Other offices assign staff to oversee nominations-related activities but delegate the screening and development of nomination recommendations to a volunteer panel, which could be charged with screening or interviewing applicants.

This report, which will be updated as warranted, describes statutory requirements for allocating congressional nominations to service academies. It also identifies the qualifications that must be met by potential nominees, as established by statute and each academy. Finally, sample documents that could be used by congressional offices at various stages of the nomination selection process are included. These documents provide basic information and can be customized to fit the specific needs of individual office policies. For further materials and resources for other constituent service issues, see the CRS Constituent Services Web page at [].