Military Aides Made Decision to Transfer Defense Secretary’s Authority During Hospitalization

Andrew Thornebrooke
By Andrew Thornebrooke
February 29, 2024US News
Military Aides Made Decision to Transfer Defense Secretary’s Authority During Hospitalization
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on Feb. 29, 2024. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The decision to transfer Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s authorities to his second-in-command in January was made by military aides and not the secretary himself, Mr. Austin testified at a congressional hearing on Thursday.

Mr. Austin’s authorities were transferred to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks as he was transferred into critical care for a cancer-related operation.

The Secretary clarified during the Feb. 29 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee that he was not the one who made that decision, because he did not have access to secure communications in the critical care unit.

“The military aides made the decision to initiate the process,” Mr. Austin said.

“The issue was, No. 1, that they could not get to me, and No. 2, it was access to secure communications. It had nothing to do with my physical condition at the time.”

The revelation that Mr. Austin was not the one to formally initiate the transfer of authorities during his hospital visit has raised concerns in Congress about the civil-military divide, as it was military aides and not civilian personnel who made the decision.

Mr. Austin has also come under fire for not informing President Joe Biden of the hospitalization until two days after the transfer of authority, and for not informing Ms. Hicks of the reason for the transfer.

At the time, Department of Defense policy did not require Mr. Austin to do either.

Nevertheless, the secretary apologized to Congress for not being more transparent about his cancer diagnosis in December.

“I should have promptly informed the president, my team, the Congress, and the American people of my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment,” he said. “We did not handle this right and I did not handle it right.”

No Intention of Secrecy

Mr. Austin added that he did not at any time direct his staff to keep the hospitalization a secret. Likewise, he said, there was no gap in the ability of either himself or Ms. Hicks to conduct the authorities of his office.

“At all times either I or the deputy secretary was in a position to conduct the duties of my office.”

Mr. Austin’s hospitalization and the notification process that followed led to an investigation by the Pentagon inspector general.

The report ultimately found Mr. Austin acted within policy, but the inspector general made eight recommendations as to how to improve the associated processes in the future.

Mr. Austin said that he had approved all eight recommendations, two of which have been enacted.

He added that he was responsible for the “breakdown of notification,” though reaffirmed that the transfer of authorities to Ms. Hicks had been conducted according to policy, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff being immediately notified.

Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said that the lack of transparency was unacceptable and that Mr. Austin should be held to greater account for not informing the president of his cancer diagnosis.

“It’s totally unacceptable that it took three days to inform the president of the United States that the secretary of defense was in the hospital and not in control of the Pentagon,” Mr. Rogers said.

Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) agreed that the president would need to be informed in the future, but underscored that the transfer of authorities was conducted properly in this case.

“The commander-in-chief should have all the broad range of information about what is going on with the Pentagon, even though in this instance there was no question who was in charge at that time,” Mr. Smith said. “The transfer was done in accordance with the law and done appropriately.”

From The Epoch Times

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.