Defense Secretary Austin’s Chief of Staff to Step Down

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
June 5, 2024US News
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Defense Secretary Austin’s Chief of Staff to Step Down
Chief of staff to the secretary of defense, Kelly Magsamen on July 6, 2023. (Chad J. McNeeley/Department of Defense)

Kelly Magsamen, the chief of staff for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, is set to resign from her Pentagon post at the end of June.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary confirmed Ms. Magsamen’s resignation plans during a press briefing on Wednesday.

“Kelly has been instrumental in orchestrating countless strategic initiatives to defend our nation, take care of our people, and succeed through resilience and teamwork” Ms. Singh said. “Her leadership, council, and selfless service has made our department stronger, safer, and the lives of our people better.”

Ms. Singh said the defense secretary’s chief of staff will conclude her work with the department at the end of the month, but provided few additional details about what inspired the resignation decision and where Ms. Magsamen will go next.

As the leader of the defense secretary’s staff, Ms. Magsamen had a role in a recent controversy in which Mr. Austin underwent multiple undisclosed hospitalizations. The defense secretary underwent surgery in December and had to be re-hospitalized on Jan. 1 due to complications. Mr. Austin temporarily transferred his authority as the defense secretary to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks during these hospitalizations, but a review found Ms. Magsamen and other members of the secretary’s staff did not notify the White House about the underlying reasons for this transfer of authority until Jan. 4.

Pentagon Press Secretary and U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder detailed Ms. Magsamen’s role in the hospitalization controversy during a Jan. 8 press briefing, stating Ms. Magsamen notified Ms. Hicks and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan of Mr. Austin’s hospitalization on Jan. 4. The Pentagon spokesman explained that Ms. Magsamen was out sick with the flu prior to Jan. 4, “which caused a delay in these notifications.”

It was in the course of this delayed notification process on Jan. 4 that President Biden learned for the first time that his defense secretary had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and that the reason he temporarily transferred his authority to Ms. Hicks in December was because he had to undergo surgery to deal with his cancer.

Following Mr. Austin’s hospitalization episode, lawmakers raised questions about whether Mr. Austin and his office could be relied on to respond and act in an emergency scenario. Some lawmakers called for Mr. Austin to resign over the incident, and the defense secretary subsequently concluded that he and his staff “did not handle this right.”

Ms. Magsamen ordered a review of the hospitalization episode on Jan. 8. That 30-day review concluded the defense secretary’s staff was limited in their ability to handle the situation because Mr. Austin kept the details of his diagnosis to himself.

“The Secretary’s staff was limited in three significant ways,” the review stated. “First, medical privacy laws prohibited medical providers from candid sharing of medical information with the Secretary’s staff. Second, for privacy reasons, his staff were hesitant to pry or share any information that they did learn. Third, the Secretary’s medical situation remained in flux and as long as he remained in the Critical Care Unit, timely secured communications could not be assured.”

Mr. Austin further testified at a Feb. 29 House Armed Services Committee hearing that he initiated a transfer of authority for his December surgery but was reliant on his staff to make the proper notifications during his Jan. 1 hospitalization because he did not have access to secure communications systems during that medical episode.

The Pentagon’s 30-day review of the hospitalization episode concluded with eight recommendations to improve the process for notifying the president and members of Congress when the defense secretary is incapacitated or has to temporarily transfer his authority. The review did not describe any specific disciplinary actions for Mr. Austin’s staff.

A reporter asked Ms. Singh during the Wednesday press briefing if Ms. Magsamen’s resignation was her own decision and if it had anything to do with the hospitalization episode. The Pentagon spokesman replied that it was Ms. Magsamen’s “complete own decision” and was not related to the hospitalization episode.

Ms. Singh noted Ms. Magsamen has continued to work with the defense secretary over the last five months since the January hospitalization controversy.

NTD News reached out to the defense secretary’s office for more details about Ms. Magsamen’s resignation but did not receive a response by press time.

Before taking on her Pentagon role, Ms. Magsamen worked on the White House National Security Council staff and filled a variety of advisory roles during President Barack Obama’s administration. She also joined on as the vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress in September 2017. She was sworn in for her Pentagon position on Jan. 20, 2021, the first day of the Biden administration.

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