DoD civilians may be furloughed, Cohen says

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Defense Department civilians may be furloughed if Congress does not approve emergency spending to cover military operations in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf, Defense Secretary William Cohen said Sunday.

"We may have to furlough some of the civilian workers," Cohen said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "I'll have to make that decision soon, the first week in May, in order to give the appropriate legal notice that certain people will be without work for a week, two weeks, possibly even a month. It's a serious issue for us."

The spending bill is up in the air over House Republicans' demands that Defense spending be offset by cuts in domestic programs. House and Senate conferees planned to meet this week to work out contentious issues on the bill, which also funds disaster relief.

Cohen also continued his push for additional base closure rounds. If more bases aren't closed, the military will not be able to upgrade its weapons systems, Cohen said, adding that base closures in 2001 and 2005 could save the department an estimated $21 billion.

"We're talking about real savings here that will go to producing the kinds of systems that we're going to need to keep our forces the superior force in the world," Cohen said. "If we don't get those kinds of savings, then those programs will have to be cut back or canceled."

Additional base closures face an uphill battle in Congress. Some lawmakers were angered when President Clinton decided, for political reasons, to "privatize-in-place," rather than close, maintenance depots at bases in Texas and California during the 1996 presidential campaign. Cohen said Congress could change the rules governing base closures to prevent politicization of the process.

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