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Department Releases Unclassified Review Summary Following Austin's Hospitalization

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 26, 2024) -- The unclassified summary of a 30-day review into circumstances surrounding the hospitalization last month of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III were released to the public today.

In addition to the summary is a memorandum detailing actions to be taken that will ensure that Defense Department officials more clearly understand and are better prepared to handle an unexpected transfer of authority from the secretary to the deputy secretary or other official.

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Last month, Austin was unexpectedly admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, for complications related to surgery in December to treat prostate cancer.

During that hospitalization, the authorities of the secretary were transferred to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. At the same time, the department failed to properly notify others, including President Joe Biden and Congress, about the secretary's condition or the transfer of authority.

Following that oversight, Austin's chief of staff directed the DOD's director of administration and management to conduct a 30-day review of the department's notification process for assumption of functions and duties of the secretary of defense. An unclassified summary of that review was released today.

"The review found that the deputy secretary was at all times positioned to perform all the functions and duties of the secretary of defense during the period of transfer from January 2-5, 2024," said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder during a briefing today. "It also identified several processes and procedural improvements that could be made."

The review included eight specific recommendations that were forwarded to Austin for review. As of today, two of those recommendations have been implemented.

Recommendations already in place include a reaffirmation of expectations around information sharing, staffing support, team relationships and understanding changes in process or staff support when the deputy secretary or other designated official assumes the functions and duties of the secretary.

Additionally, the secretary's chief of staff and the deputy secretary's chief of staff, have jointly issued guidelines which standardize how information provided to the secretary could be shared with the deputy secretary so that the deputy secretary will be prepared and aware of the most important department issues in the event of an unforeseen transfer of authority.

The other six recommendations, Austin wrote in today's memorandum, will be implemented within 90 days.

"All of these actions demonstrate our deep commitment to strengthening our internal processes without delay," Austin wrote in the memorandum. "As I have repeatedly stated, we are a learning organization, and we will continue to strengthen our processes as we identify ways to improve upon our existing procedures."

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