WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden formally announced on Wednesday retired four-star Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as his pick to be the 28th secretary of Defense.
"We must prepare to meet the challenges for the future, not just keep fighting wars of the past, we must build a foreign policy to lead with diplomacy, revitalizes the State Department, revitalizes our alliance, putting American leadership back at the table and rallying the world to meet global threats," Biden said.
"From pandemics to climate change, from nuclear proliferation to the refugee crisis ... Lloyd Austin knows how to do this work," he added.
The selection of Austin has triggered some controversy related to his business ties as well as his status as a recently retired general. Austin is currently a board member at defense giant Raytheon. President Donald Trump's former Pentagon chiefs James Mattis, Mark Esper and acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan also had ties to defense giants General Dynamics, Raytheon and Boeing.
Under the National Security Act of 1947, Congress has prohibited any individual from serving as secretary of Defense within seven years of active-duty service. But Austin left the Army just four years ago, and he would require a special congressional waiver in order to bypass the seven-year rule.
"There's a good reason for this law that I fully understand and respect. I would not be asking for this exception if I did not believe that this moment in our history doesn't call for it," Biden said.
"I know this man, I know his respect for our Constitution and our respect for our system of government. So, just as they did for Secretary Jim Mattis, I asked Congress to grant a waiver," Biden added.
If confirmed by the Senate, the 1975 graduate of West Point would be the first Black leader of the Pentagon, breaking one of the more enduring barriers in the U.S. government.
In his remarks, Austin evoked the military service of Beau Biden, Joe Biden's late son.
Beau Biden, who died of cancer in 2015, served in the U.S. Army as a military lawyer and worked on Austin's staff while deployed in Iraq.
"Beau was a very special person and a true patriot and a good friend to all who knew him," Austin said.
"I come to this role as a civilian leader with military experience to be sure, but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military," Austin said alongside Biden.
"As secretary of Defense, my priority always will be the men and women, military and civilian who make up the department and their families," Austin added.
Writing in The Atlantic Tuesday, Biden tacitly acknowledged that Austin's nomination violates the civilian requirement, but he argued that the strength of Austin's qualifications outweighs the potential harm of blurring the civilian-military divide.
"I respect and believe in the importance of civilian control of our military and in the importance of a strong civil-military working relationship at DoD — as does Austin," wrote Biden.
"Austin also knows that the secretary of defense has a different set of responsibilities than a general officer and that the civil-military dynamic has been under great stress these past four years," Biden wrote.