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NEWS | Jan. 16, 2024

Inspector General initiates review of DOD procedures following Austin hospitalization

By C. Todd Lopez DOD News

The Defense Department's inspector general sent a memorandum on Jan. 10 announcing a review examining the roles, processes, procedures, responsibilities and actions related to the secretary of defense's recent hospitalization.

"[The review will] assess whether the DOD's policies and procedures are sufficient to ensure timely and appropriate notifications and the effective transition of authorities as may be warranted due to health-based or other unavailability of senior leadership," the memorandum said.

During a briefing on Jan. 11, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the department welcomes the review and will cooperate with the IG to ensure its success. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, in late December for surgery to treat prostate cancer. He returned home the following day. 

On Monday of last week, the secretary was again admitted to Walter Reed with complications related to that earlier surgery. Those complications included nausea, along with abdominal, hip and leg pain. In response to those complications, Austin underwent additional treatment at Walter Reed, and he remains there recovering from those additional procedures. 

After Austin's admission to Walter Reed last week, the Defense Department failed to properly notify appropriate parties, including President Joe Biden, about the secretary's condition. 

In addition to the inspector general review, the secretary's chief of staff directed the DOD's director of administration and management to conduct a 30-day review of the department's notification process for the assumption of functions and duties of the secretary of defense.

"While [there are] understandably many outstanding questions, it's also important to allow both of these reviews to run their course so that we can assure a full accounting of the facts and importantly to ensure that we can most effectively improve processes and procedures as necessary, as well as meet the standards of transparency expected by the American public, Congress and the news media," Ryder said. 

Ryder also told reporters that while certain notifications hadn't been made while Austin was in the hospital, the Defense Department's command and control was not at risk. 

"This is an important point, that during this situation at no time was there a gap in command and control for the Department of Defense," he said. "At all times, national security was in good hands and either the secretary or the deputy defense secretary were at the helm."