Pentagon Review Faults No One for Failure to Disclose Austin’s Illness - The World News

Pentagon Review Faults No One for Failure to Disclose Austin’s Illness

Few expected the Pentagon’s internal review of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III’s failure to tell President Biden and other senior leaders that he was in the hospital to amount to much.

And indeed, it did not.

The unclassified version of the review was released on Monday. It has little if any criticism of the slew of Defense Department officials, including Mr. Austin, who did not immediately notify the White House that he was in the intensive care unit of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., last month with prostate cancer surgery complications.

The review instead retreats behind paragraphs of heavy legalese that do little to disguise the lack of accountability. It is a strange document, with recommendations signed by Mr. Austin himself.

“The director of administration and management will develop and codify internal guidance for making determinations regarding the assumption of functions and duties of the secretary of defense, minimizing subjectivity in any guidance, and will provide me with a proposed communication and training plan for all relevant organizations and officials,” the recommendations say.

The closest the review comes to any self-criticism is contained in a paragraph about the transfer of authority, referred to in the document as “T.O.A.”

“The secretary’s staff focused on ensuring continuity of the mission following standing processes,” the document said. “Their efforts, while respecting the secretary’s privacy, combined with the uncertainty of a medical situation and its bearing on how best to execute a T.O.A. in the absence of an established methodology for making such an unplanned decision, may have contributed to the lack of comprehensive information sharing about the situation.”

The internal review will almost certainly fail to satisfy Republican critics who have called for Mr. Austin’s resignation over the issue. But it will probably make for a testy congressional hearing later this week, when Mr. Austin is scheduled to appear before the House Armed Services Committee to explain.

Soon after the document was released, the committee chairman, Representative Mike D. Rogers, Republican of Alabama, said on social media that it was unsurprising “the review of Sec Austin’s actions, conducted by his own subordinates & subject to his approval, HELD NO ONE ACCOUNTABLE. This is why we are conducting our own investigation.”

The Pentagon’s inspector general, Robert P. Storch, is also investigating. In a memo to the defense secretary last month, Mr. Storch wrote that his office would examine “the roles, processes, procedures, responsibilities and actions” related to Mr. Austin’s hospitalization.

Mr. Austin took a first stab at explaining himself earlier this month when he appeared at the lectern of the Pentagon briefing room and told reporters that “I did not handle this right.”

“I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis,” he said. “I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility.”

Mr. Austin also said that he never told his staff not to inform the White House about his hospitalization.

Pentagon officials have yet to explain publicly why Mr. Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, delayed relaying his hospitalization to White House officials.

But the defense secretary has long been known as extremely private and media shy. And one Defense Department official said last week that given that Mr. Austin had made clear through his three-year tenure that staff members should respect his privacy, it would be difficult for him to then put out a review that criticized his staff for doing exactly that.

Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said the classified version of the review had been shared with Congress.

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