Lawmakers blame Defense Secretary Austin for failed leadership over his secret hospital stay

(Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

Lawmakers blame Defense Secretary Austin for failed leadership over his secret hospital stay


February 29, 2024

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin faced sharp bipartisan criticism during a congressional hearing on Thursday for failing to promptly notify the president


Biden and other US leaders about his hospital stay last month. Republicans demanded to know why no one has been disciplined.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee condemned the omission as a disgrace and a failure of his leadership. They said the fact that Biden was kept in the dark about Austin’s lack of command for days could have caused confusion or delays in the military action, even though decision-making authorities had been transferred to the deputy defense secretary.

Austin maintained that there were no gaps in control of the department or national security because I or the Deputy Secretary were in a position to carry out the duties of my office at all times. He said changes have been made to the reporting process.

Many Democrats also raised concerns about Austin’s lack of transparency about his hospitalization for complications from prostate cancer surgery. But some also used the hearing to criticize House Republicans, who hold a slim majority, for failing to pass a budget or address critical national security needs.

The Pentagon reveals more about Austin’s secretive hospital stay and the delay in telling Biden

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) denounced committee members’ outrage and drama when she said Austin has admitted to making a mistake, apologized and taken action to prevent a recurrence. She implored her colleagues to focus on the issues that are actually important to national security, such as threats from Russia and China.

Nevertheless, it was generally agreed that Austin and his staff received reports of his hospital stay in early January.

It is completely unacceptable that it took three days to inform the President of the United States that the Secretary of Defense was in the hospital and had no control over the Pentagon, said MP Mike Rogers, chairman of the committee, adding that wars raging in Ukraine. and Israel at the time. The chain of command doesn’t work if the commander in chief doesn’t know who to call.

Lawmakers pointed out that any employee, from truck drivers and bartenders to a junior military service member, who failed to inform their supervisor of their absence would typically be disciplined.

A Pentagon mystery: Why was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospital stay kept secret for days?

Austin sometimes had a hard time when pressure was put on who was to blame. He said he took full responsibility, but also said he had not told his staff to keep it a secret. At times he seemed to blame his staff.

“I was the patient and so I expect the organization notified the appropriate authorities,” Austin said, when asked why it took four days to notify the White House that he had been hospitalized. The cabinet member said his public affairs staff knew he was in the hospital, but said he didn’t know why they didn’t tell anyone or whether they decided not to inform the public.

The incident raised concerns about deficiencies in the command and control of the armed forces, including the country’s nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon has said that Austin’s staff notified Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks when Austin entered intensive care in early January. But that only raised questions about why Austin didn’t do it himself and whether that indicated there was a gap in control.

Austin told lawmakers that there were no gaps in authorities at any time during my treatment or recovery. He offered a mea culpa that mirrored comments earlier this month at a news briefing, saying he took full responsibility and had apologized to Biden.

Austin says he never told anyone on his staff to keep the White House in the dark about a hospitalization

I should have immediately informed the President, my team, Congress and the American people of my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Again, we didn’t handle this properly. And I didn’t handle it well, Austin said.

Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December. He went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for surgery in December. 22. On January 1, he was returned to Walter Reed by ambulance after experiencing significant pain. The next day he was transferred to intensive care.

Pentagon officials have acknowledged that public affairs and defense officials were told on Jan. 2 that Austin had been hospitalized, but did not make it public and did not tell military service leaders or the White House National Security Council until Jan. 4. Biden will find out. It took another four days before the reason for Austin’s hospitalization was announced.

Defense Minister released from hospital after complications from an operation he kept secret

A recently released internal review conducted by Austin’s subordinates largely cleared all of misconduct due to the secrecy. The review concluded there was no evidence of malicious intent or an attempt to cover it up, and blamed communication errors on privacy restrictions and staff reluctance to seek or communicate timely information about Austin’s health and condition.

Austin spent several days in intensive care and, during that time and when he underwent the first surgery in December, turned over decision-making powers to Hicks. He didn’t tell her why.

In his Feb. 1 news briefing, Austin said the cancer diagnosis “was a gut punch. And honestly, my first instinct was to keep it private.

The internal investigation shows that procedures need to be improved and information better shared when the Minister of Defense has to transfer decision-making powers to the deputy. The Defense Department’s inspector general is also investigating.


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