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Biography: William S. Cohen

National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 1997 – William S. Cohen was sworn in as the nation's 20th Secretary of Defense on January 24, 1997, in a White House ceremony. His nomination was announced in White House ceremonies on Dec. 5, 1996, and he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Jan. 22, 1997. He previously served three terms in the U.S. Senate for the State of Maine (1979-1997) and three terms in the House of Representatives from Maine's Second Congressional District (1973-1979).

Secretary Cohen was born August, 1940, in Bangor, ME. He attended Bangor High School, graduating in 1958. He received his B.A. in Latin from Bowdoin College in 1962, and his LL.B. cum laude from Boston University Law School in 1965.

Secretary Cohen served on the Senate Armed Services and Governmental Affairs Committees from 1979-97. He was a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1983-91 and 1995-97, and he served as Vice Chairman from 1987-91.

An influential voice on defense and international security issues, Secretary Cohen played a leading role in crafting the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. He was the Senate sponsor of the GI Bill of 1984 and the subsequent enhancements to this landmark legislation. Secretary Cohen's efforts led to the creation of the Rapid Deployment Force, which later developed into the Central Command, and the maritime pre-positioning program, both of which were key to the success of the Gulf War. He also co-authored the Intelligence Oversight Reform Act of 1991, as well as legislation designed to overhaul U.S. counterintelligence efforts and defend against foreign political and industrial espionage.

From the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984, which he authored, to the enactment of the Federal Acquisition Reform Act of 1996, which he played a key role in drafting, Secretary Cohen has been in the forefront of reforming the federal government's procurement process. Committed to bringing accountability and private sector best practices to government agencies, he also authored the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 to improve the way federal agencies manage information technology investments and streamline the acquisition process.

Secretary Cohen served on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1989 to 1997, and in 1996, he chaired the Council's Middle East Study Group. He has also chaired and served on numerous study groups and committees at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, School for Advanced International Studies, and Brookings Institute on issues ranging from DoD reorganization, NATO enlargement, and chemical weapons arms control. Since 1985, Secretary Cohen has led the American delegation of senior Executive Branch officials and Members of Congress to the Munich Conference on Security Policy, which brings together senior officials from NATO and Partnership for Peace countries. He also led America delegations to the American-Arab Dialogue in Cairo and the Pacific Dialogue in Kuala Lumpur, regional conferences on security and economic issues.

In 1974, he was selected by TIME magazine as of one of America's 200 future leaders. The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce named him one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men in America in 1975. In 1975, the Boston University Law School honored him with its prestigious "Young Lawyer's Chair," and in 1976, the Boston University Alumni Association presented him with its Award for Distinguished Public Service. In 1980, he received the "Vanguard" award from the Non-Commissioned Officers Association for his work on behalf of military personnel and in 1983, the same association honored him with the L. Mendel Rivers Award. In 1996, he received the U.S. Special Operations Command Medal.

On the personal side, Secretary Cohen has authored or co-authored nine books and has also been recognized for his basketball prowess. In 1962, he was inducted into the New England Basketball All Star Hall of Fame and in 1987, he was selected by the National Association of Basketball Coaches for the Silver Anniversary All Star Team.

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