Biden to nominate first female deputy Defense secretary

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate experienced Pentagon hand Kathleen Hicks to be the department’s No. 2 official, his transition team announced Wednesday.

In confirmed, Hicks would be the first woman to be deputy Defense secretary.

The transition also announced Colin Kahl, a longtime Biden aide, will be nominated as under secretary of Defense for policy, seen as the third most powerful civilian job in the Pentagon.

“These respected, accomplished civilian leaders will help lead the Department of Defense with integrity and resolve, safeguard the lives and interests of the American people, and ensure that we fulfill our most sacred obligation: to equip and protect those who serve our country, and to care for them and their families both during and after their service,” Biden said in a statement. 

“Dr. Kath Hicks and Dr. Colin Kahl have the broad experience and crisis-tested judgment necessary to help tackle the litany of challenges we face today, and all those we may confront tomorrow,” he added.

If confirmed, Hicks and Kahl will fill out a Pentagon team expected to be led by Biden’s nominee for Defense secretary, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Kelly Magsamen, a former Defense official who now works at the Center for American Progress, will also be tapped as Pentagon chief of staff, a transition official confirmed to The Hill.

Biden’s choice of a recently retired general to be Defense secretary has raised concerns about eroding the norm of civilian control of the military. Austin will need Congress to approve a waiver to bypass a law requiring Defense secretaries be out of uniform for at least seven years.

The picks announced Wednesday appear intended to allay some of those concerns, signaling Austin will be surrounded by strong civilian leadership with years of experience at the Pentagon.

“Dr. Kathleen Hicks and Dr. Colin Kahl are public servants to their core — and they have spent their distinguished careers advancing the safety and security of our nation,” Austin said in a statement. “They share my strong belief that we need empowered civilian voices serving alongside military leaders at the Department of Defense to ensure we are always accountable to the American people.”

The transition official described Hicks and Kahl as trusted advisers to Biden who know the ins and outs of the Pentagon and will be empowered civilian leaders.

Hicks has been leading Biden’s Pentagon transition team, which has been clashing with the Trump administration over accusations that political appointees at the Pentagon have refused to meet and hand over information on troop deployments, a hack suspected to have been carried out by the Russians that compromised myriad government systems and other issues.

Hicks, who currently leads the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, got her start at the Pentagon as an intern and rose through the ranks. During the Obama administration, she served as deputy under secretary of Defense for strategy, plans and forces and after that as principal deputy under secretary of Defense for policy.

“It would be a privilege to return to the Pentagon as Deputy Secretary of Defense and work alongside @LloydAustin, @ColinKahl, and the incredible DoD total workforce to advance the Biden-Harris administration’s defense priorities,” she tweeted Wednesday.

In 2017, she was a witness for Democrats at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on whether to grant President Trump’s then-nominee to be Defense secretary, James Mattis, a waiver like the one Austin is now seeking. At the hearing, Hicks testified on the importance of restricting recently retired generals from leading the Pentagon, though she supported a waiver for Mattis as a “rare generational” exception.

Her selection may also soothe some lingering resentment among women in the national security community after Michele Flournoy was passed over for the Defense secretary job.

Kahl, who works on the Biden transition team reviewing the National Security Council, served as Biden’s national security adviser during the Obama administration. His selection follows a trend of Biden turning to longtime trusted advisers to fill out his administration.

A Stanford University professor, Kahl got his start in government as a low-level Pentagon official. He later served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East at the beginning of the Obama administration.

“My first government job was as an action officer in [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] Policy and I was later a [deputy assistant secretary]. I know how hard the professionals in Policy work every day to keep America safe,” he tweeted Wednesday. “I would be honored to lead this great organization and work with @kath_hicks and @LloydAustin to strengthen DoD!”

The transition official highlighted that in his deputy assistant secretary job, Kahl traveled to Iraq 16 times and worked closely with Austin, who was the top U.S. general in the country at the time. The official also said Kahl and Austin worked closely together on the fight against ISIS while Kahl was at the White House and Austin led Central Command.

Tags biden administration Biden transition Colin Kahl Donald Trump James Mattis Joe Biden Kathleen Hicks Lloyd Austin Pentagon

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