President-elect Joe Biden named retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as his nominee for secretary of defense, the Biden transition team announced Tuesday. He is set to formally introduce his nominee at an event this afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware.
The former commander of the US Central Command would make history as the first Black person to lead the Pentagon if confirmed by the US Senate.
“Today, I ask Lloyd Austin to once more take on a mission for the United States of America—this time as the secretary-designate of the Department of Defense. I know he will do an outstanding job,” Biden wrote in an op-ed published by The Atlantic on Tuesday.
“In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency. He is a true and tested soldier and leader. I’ve spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the White House Situation Room.”
Austin has worked closely with Biden in the past. While Biden was vice president, Austin served as the vice chief of staff of the Army and commanding general of US forces in Iraq, and later the commander of CENTCOM. Biden and Austin had discussions on a range of issues, including those in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.
Austin would need a congressional waiver to be confirmed for the civilian post because federal law requires seven years of retirement from active duty before taking on the role. Austin retired from active-duty service only four years ago.
Though the use of the waiver is rare, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis received a waiver from Congress in 2017 to serve as President Trump’s defense secretary.
Some Democrats in Congress at the time expressed concerns about setting aside the precedent of maintaining civilian leadership in the military, but the waiver was ultimately approved by both chambers, allowing Mattis to serve in the position until his departure in December 2018.