By Steve Holland and Kanishka Singh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is conducting a review of Cabinet protocols for delegating authority, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients said in a memo on Tuesday, in the aftermath of the hospitalization of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Austin’s failure to disclose his hospitalization last week has led to a political furor, with even President Joe Biden unaware his defense secretary was in the hospital for several days. Austin’s role means that he is supposed to be available at a moment’s notice in the case of a national security emergency.
Officials said on Monday Biden does not plan to fire Austin, who remains at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington D.C., where he was taken by ambulance on New Year’s Day and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. The Pentagon revealed the hospitalization on Jan. 5.
His handling of the situation appeared to be a stark breach of protocol for high-ranking cabinet officials, who typically inform the public of planned medical absences ahead of time and identify who will be filling in for them.
The memo on Tuesday by the White House chief of staff was sent to Cabinet secretaries and asked agencies to “submit your existing protocols for a delegation of authority” for review by Jan. 12.
The memo seen by Reuters does not mention Austin’s recent hospitalization specifically but reminded the departments that they must follow protocols in case where authorities are delegated, including by notifying the White House of any such delegation.
The Pentagon has said Austin is doing well and has resumed full duties. It shared a statement from the hospital on Tuesday that said Austin had been admitted for complications related to a previous procedure to cure prostate cancer and was expected to make a full recovery.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Kanishka Singh in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
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