Updated Jan 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

White House orders Cabinet protocols review after Lloyd Austin's secret hospitalization

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients is launching a review of Cabinet protocols for delegating authority in the wake of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's secret hospitalization, according to a memo obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The Pentagon is under growing pressure from members of Congress to disclose how and why White House officials — including President Biden — were not informed of Austin's Jan. 1 hospitalization for more than three days.

  • Austin, who remains in the hospital but is no longer in the intensive care unit, has no plans to resign despite calls for his ouster from some Republicans.
  • Biden has indicated he has full confidence in his defense secretary, but Zients is seeking to ensure the breakdown in communication and transparency is not repeated.

Details: Zients' memo, addressed to all Cabinet secretaries, directs departments and agencies to "submit your existing protocols for a delegation of authority" for review by Jan. 12.

  • While the White House conducts its review, Zients is reminding Cabinet agencies that they must adhere to certain procedures when delegation of authority is required.
  • That includes notifying the White House, activating existing delegation-of-authority protocols and documenting everything in writing.
  • The memo does not mention Austin's hospitalization.

The protocols will be scrutinized to ensure they address:

  • Delegation criteria
  • Decision-making authority
  • Applicable documentation
  • Notification procedures
  • Rescission of delegation

The big picture: Zients' memo follows one sent by the Department of Defense yesterday that directed an internal review of the processes and procedures during Austin's hospitalization.

What we know: Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Monday that Austin underwent an elective procedure on Dec. 22, which the White House was also not aware of.

  • Austin was then transported to the hospital via ambulance on Jan. 1 after experiencing "severe pain."
  • Some of Austin's authorities were transferred on Jan. 2 to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who was vacationing in Puerto Rico and not aware of his hospitalization.
  • Hicks and the White House were finally notified of Austin's hospitalization on Jan. 4. Ryder said Austin's chief of staff was out sick with the flu, which "caused a delay in these notifications."

What they're saying: "I offer my apologies and my pledge to learn from this experience. I will do everything I can to meet the standard you expect from us," Ryder told the Pentagon press corps.

Read the full memo.

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