Pentagon releases review of handling of Austin's hospitalization

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An internal review of the transfer of authority during Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's hospitalization in January found that while processes could be improved, "nothing examined during this review demonstrated any indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate," according to an unclassified summary of the review released by the Pentagon Monday. The rest of the review remains classified.

File: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivers remarks during meeting with Kenyan Defense Minister Aden Duale at the Pentagon on Feb. 07, 2024 in Arlington, Virginia.   / Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
File: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivers remarks during meeting with Kenyan Defense Minister Aden Duale at the Pentagon on Feb. 07, 2024 in Arlington, Virginia. / Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The three-page unclassified summary in part blames the lack of information sharing on the "unprecedented situation" and says that Austin's staff was trying to respect his medical privacy.

In a memo also released Monday, Austin directed that the review's recommendations be implemented. The review included instructions to develop guidance so that if there is a transfer of authority, the acting secretary is prepared and supported to quickly perform the duties if required.

Austin's chief of staff Kelly Magsamen directed the Defense Department's administration and management director to conduct the 30-day review of whether policies for transferring authority were followed when Austin was admitted to the hospital in January to treat a bladder issue that arose after surgery to treat prostate cancer. The unclassified summary released Monday is the Pentagon's internal review of the episode, but in addition to this, the Defense Department inspector general has also launched an independent review of the handling and disclosure of Austin's hospitalization.

The Pentagon faced a backlash for waiting several days to notify the White House, Congress, and the public of Austin's health.

The summary of the review said that once Austin was transferred to critical care, his military assistants agreed a "transfer of authority" to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks was necessary on Jan. 2 and executed the process. Austin entered the hospital on Jan. 1, but neither the deputy nor the White House knew about his hospitalization until Jan. 4.

Congress and the public did not learn that Austin had been hospitalized until Jan. 5.

After his hospitalization became public and he faced criticism for not alerting anyone sooner, Austin said he was responsible for decisions related to disclosure.

In a press conference after he returned to work at the Pentagon, Austin said, "We did not handle this right, and I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public. And I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people."

Austin is expected to testify Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee about the period when he was in the hospital.

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