White House sets new guidelines for Cabinet notifications after Austin’s secret hospitalization

(Uncredited / Associated Press)

White House sets new guidelines for Cabinet notifications after Austin’s secret hospitalization


January 26, 2024

The White House is issuing a new set of guidelines to ensure it will be informed whenever a Cabinet chief is unable to do his job after Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III’s secret hospitalization this month was held up for days by President Biden and his colleagues. top assistants.

White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients includes a half-dozen instructions for Cabinet agencies to follow when there is a delegation of authority or when secretaries temporarily transfer their authority to a deputy when they are unreachable due to medical issues, travel directives or other reasons. a review of existing notification procedures earlier this month, shortly after Austin’s hospitalization was announced, along with the Pentagon’s failure to immediately alert the White House.

“Through your submissions, you have demonstrated your commitment to informing the White House in the event of a delegation and upon acceptance of a delegation, prompting you to contact the White House,” Zients wrote in a memo Friday which was sent to the rest of the cabinet. The memo was obtained by the Associated Press.

Zients noted that some existing guidance varies between agencies due to different laws, regulations and executive orders.

But through this process we are assured that all agencies have a set of standard protocols to follow in the event of a delegation of authority,” he wrote.

Going forward, Cabinet agencies must notify the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs and Zients’ office when they expect a delegation of authority, and again when the delegation actually occurs. It must also be recorded in writing that the delegation is in effect and when that delegation has ended.

Once the interim leader assumes authority, that person must contact his or her primary counterpart in the White House and the agency must follow up on any other notifications required by law, such as notifying key lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Agencies must ensure that authority is delegated when a Cabinet official travels to areas with limited or no access to communications, undergoes hospitalization or a medical procedure requiring general anesthesia, or otherwise in a circumstance where he or she may be unreachable, according to the memo.

The Pentagon said earlier this month that Austin had a prostatectomy on December 1 to treat prostate cancer. 22, for which he underwent general anesthesia at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He did not tell the White House about the procedure, but did temporarily transfer some of his powers to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

Austin returned to Walter Reed on January 1 after experiencing severe pain and being admitted to the intensive care unit. The next day, he again turned over some authorities to Hicks, who was vacationing in Puerto Rico. In both cases, Hicks was not told why authorities were delegated to her.

The Pentagon did not tell the White House about Austin’s hospitalization until Jan. 4, when National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was notified and in turn told Biden.

Kim writes for the Associated Press.


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