White House orders review after Austin’s undisclosed hospitalization | ET REALITY


The White House on Tuesday ordered Cabinet secretaries to keep him informed when they were unable to perform their duties after Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III was hospitalized for several days last week without notifying President Biden or the your personal.

In a memo, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House chief of staff, directed Cabinet officials to evaluate their current policies for delegating authority when a secretary is incapacitated and to submit those procedures to the White House for review. Meanwhile, Zients made clear that White House officials expected to be informed about developments such as important medical issues.

“Notify the Offices of Cabinet Affairs and the White House Chief of Staff in the event of a delegation of authority or potential delegation,” Zients wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times. “This notification must occur when agencies anticipate or are preparing for a delegation of authority and again when the delegation occurs.” He added that he wanted such notification “in writing.”

Mr. Zients’ directive reflected the sense of dismay in the West Wing that the country’s top defense official, who is part of the nuclear chain of command, could be in the intensive care unit for so long without the president or other senior national security officials. officials are aware of this. Even Austin’s deputy secretary, who would be asked to act in crisis in his absence, was not informed at first.

Biden has signaled that he does not plan to fire Austin over the incident despite calls from some Republicans for him to do so, but people close to the White House described deep frustration and bewilderment among some members of the president’s team. Austin, a reserved retired general, does not have a particularly close relationship with Biden or his team, but he is generally well-liked and respected, making the situation even more disturbing for them.

Even now, some in the White House have been pushing for Austin to reveal more about the medical problems that required him to be taken by ambulance to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 1. He has only said that he was hospitalized for complications stemming from “an elective medical procedure” on December 22, but has not revealed what the original procedure was or the nature of the complications.

Austin resumed duties Friday from his hospital bed and “has received operational updates and provided necessary guidance” from there. Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement Monday, but it was unclear when he would be released. The Pentagon said the secretary “is recovering and is in good spirits.”

The Defense Department has ordered its own 30-day review of what happened and how its procedures should be changed if necessary. In another memo obtained by The Times, Kelly E. Magsamen, Austin’s chief of staff, on Monday directed Jennifer Walsh, the department’s director of administration and management, to “identify relevant facts and circumstances during this period and evaluate the processes and procedures ”. by which the undersecretary of defense was notified that she was to perform the functions and duties of the secretary of defense.”

While the review is underway, Ms. Magsamen ordered that if the secretary’s power is delegated again, his office should notify the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders, service secretaries and chiefs of staff, the general counsel of the Pentagon. , senior advisors to the secretary and his deputy and the White House Situation Room.

In his memo Tuesday, Zients directed all Cabinet departments to send him their current procedures by Friday so he can evaluate them and determine whether they need adjustments. He made it clear that the power must be transferred “when a Cabinet member travels to areas with limited or no access to communication, is being hospitalized or is undergoing a medical procedure requiring general anesthesia, or in any other circumstance where may be unattainable.”

It was unclear whether Biden himself knows the details of Austin’s medical problems. The two men spoke Saturday, but the White House has not provided many details about their conversation other than Biden wishing the secretary a speedy recovery. Several White House officials said they did not know the details of Mr. Austin’s condition.

John F. Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said Monday that “the president’s number one focus is his health and recovery” and added that “there are no plans or anything other than for Secretary Austin to remain in office.” job.”

Austin participated in a secure conference call on New Year’s Day morning with Biden, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other officials about operations in the Middle East, according to the White House. . At some point that day, Austin experienced what a spokesperson said was “severe pain” and was taken to Walter Reed.

According to the Pentagon, four aides to the secretary were briefed the next day, but did not immediately inform the White House or key colleagues in the Defense Department. Sullivan was not informed until Thursday, and the Pentagon made public the secretary’s hospitalization Friday afternoon in a brief statement.

A key question will be how the delegation of authority to Kathleen Hicks, the deputy secretary of defense, was handled. Ms. Hicks was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, and the Pentagon said her secretarial power was transferred from Tuesday to last Friday. But officials have said Ms. Hicks was not informed of Mr. Austin’s hospitalization until Thursday.

Austin has acknowledged the lack of transparency. “I recognize that she could have done a better job ensuring the public was adequately informed,” she said in a statement Saturday. “I am committed to doing better.”

Republicans remain dissatisfied. “I am rapidly losing faith in Secretary Austin’s ability to lead the Department of Defense in these turbulent times,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. wrote on social media Monday night, referring to the Department of Defense. “The decision by Secretary Austin and his team to withhold vital information from the President and Congress must be addressed. “We must listen to Secretary Austin and the Department of Defense about this lack of transparency.”

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