Who was to blame for secrecy surrounding Austin’s hospitalization? A Pentagon report says no one

WASHINGTON — An internal review finds privacy restrictions and staff hesitancy blamed for the Pentagon’s failure to quickly notify the president and other senior leaders last month of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization due to complications from prostate cancer surgery.

The review, conducted by Austin’s subordinates, largely clears everyone of wrongdoing because of the secrecy surrounding his hospitalization, which included several days in intensive care. And it says outright that there was “no indication of malicious intent or an attempt to cover it up.”

Instead, the 30-day investigation into the forgery — which angered the White House and members of Congress — says procedures need to be improved and information better shared when the Secretary of Defense must transfer decision-making powers to the deputy.

Austin was called to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a hearing in the House of Representatives and is expected to face sharp criticism. The Defense Department’s inspector general is also conducting an investigation, which has not yet been completed.

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

Although he turned over decision-making authority to Assistant Secretary Kathleen Hicks during his first surgery and then again while in intensive care, he did not tell her why or notify the White House.

Pentagon officials 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 National Security Council until Jan. 4 . Only then did President Joe Biden find out. It took another four days before the reason for his hospitalization was announced.

Defense officials released an unclassified summary of the review Monday, along with a series of recommended changes. The investigation found that there was no established method of handling such an incident, and the fact that his hospitalization was ‘unplanned’ contributed to his failure to notify others.

It also says that Austin’s staff was restricted by medical privacy laws that prohibited doctors from providing information and that they “hesitated to elicit or share the information they learned.” secure communication.”

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Monday that Austin’s aides were in an “unprecedented situation.” He said that when Austin was moved to the intensive care unit, his deputies recognized that he would not have access to critical communications, and they made the decision to turn authorities over to the deputy.

The fact that staff, not Austin, made the decision raised questions about who was in charge of the department at the time, including the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Ryder said there were “no gaps” in the leadership and control of the department.

Ryder emphasized the lack of blame and whether anyone is being disciplined, saying: “As the secretary has said, the buck stops with him and he takes responsibility for not notifying the president and the White House sooner stated.”

He added that “dedicated public servants did what they thought was right.”

The 30-day review was sent to Austin on February 8, but only parts of it were released publicly. The Pentagon has argued that parts of the report are classified.

Austin told reporters in a news conference after returning to work that he never told his staff to keep his surgery and hospitalization secret from the White House, but acknowledged that he should have handled it differently and apologized for Biden and others in jail. dark. He denied that there was a culture of secrecy in his office, and also said that staff members may have perceived that “they are doing things in my best interest.”

The recommended changes include better guidelines for the transfer of authority and better reporting requirements during those incidents.

His secrecy over the hospitalizations prompted the White House to issue new guidance to ensure it is notified whenever a Cabinet chief transfers decision-making authority when inaccessible for medical, travel or other reasons.

Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, ordered the 30-day review on Jan. 8, which was conducted by Jennifer Walsh, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management. Walsh is a career defense worker, not a political appointee, Ryder said.

In a memo released at the time, Magsamen said the review should include a timeline of events and reports after Austin was taken to the hospital by ambulance on Jan. 1. She said it should examine the existing procedure for when a secretary hands over decision-making authorities and who should be notified, and make recommendations for improvement.

Her memo also made some interim changes to vastly expand the number of people who must be notified and provide a reason for future transfers of power.