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White House orders Cabinet protocol review after Austin hospitalization

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The White House is launching a review of protocols for how Cabinet officials delegate authority in the aftermath of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s undisclosed hospitalization, which President Biden was not notified of for multiple days.

Chief of staff Jeff Zients in a memo to Cabinet secretaries said while the review is ongoing, agencies would be required to notify the Office of Cabinet Affairs and the White House chief of staff in the event they need to delegate their duties.

The memo, which was first published by Axios, calls for agencies to submit their protocols for delegation by Friday.

Zients wrote that the protocols should address how Cabinet secretaries will delegate their duties when traveling to areas with limited communication, during a hospitalization, or when undergoing a medical procedure requiring anesthesia.

The agencies should also determine who else would be authorized to issue a delegation of authority if needed, as well as who should be notified beyond the chief of staff and Office of Cabinet Affairs.

“This is something we have said over the past couple of days, that the president believes we have to have robust protocols and procedures in place across the Cabinet, and this is what you’re seeing from this memo,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

John Kirby, a White House spokesperson for national security issues, said “we’re all going to learn a whole heck of a lot of lessons from this past week.”

Zients’s memo comes amid the ongoing fallout from Austin’s hospitalization, which caught the White House off guard and has drawn bipartisan criticism over its handling. The Pentagon disclosed Tuesday that Austin was hospitalized after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.

The Pentagon revealed Friday that Austin had been hospitalized since last Monday following complications from a previous surgery. Biden, though, wasn’t made aware of his absence until Thursday afternoon, as the Department of Defense kept the situation internal, raising concerns about government transparency. Biden was not told about Austin’s cancer diagnosis until Tuesday.

The White House has said Biden has no plans to fire Austin but that it is reviewing protocols and procedures to see what can be learned from the incident.

“He has taken responsibility, and so I think that’s important. So I would point you to that,” Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday. “And I would just reiterate that the president has complete confidence, continues to have confidence in Secretary Austin, and … I think the number one thing right now is for him, we want to see him back at the Pentagon.”

Separately, the Pentagon on Monday ordered a review to determine the circumstances surrounding Austin’s hospitalization and the transfer of authority to the deputy Defense secretary, Kathleen Hicks.

“This review will help to ensure (1) clarity and transparency when a determination has been made that certain authorities have been transferred, and (2) that proper and timely notification has been made to the President and White House and, as appropriate, the United States Congress and the American public,” the memo stated.

Updated: 3:35 p.m.


Source: The Hill

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