After being confirmed in a nearly unanimous vote by the Senate, Lloyd Austin was quickly sworn in and working at the Pentagon Friday afternoon as President Biden’s Secretary of Defense.
Austin, the retired Army four-star that once headed U.S. Central Command, received a 93-2 vote in favor of his nomination to becomes the first Black Secretary of Defense.
“I am honored to have this chance to serve again and to do so alongside you and your families,” Austin wrote in a message to the force following his confirmation. “The way I see it, my job as Secretary of Defense is to make you more effective at doing yours. That means ensuring you have the tools, technology, weapons, and training to deter and defeat our enemies. It means establishing sound policy and strategy and assigning you clear missions. It means putting a premium on cooperation with our allies and partners. And it means living up to our core values, the same ones our fellow citizens expect of us.”
Friday’s vote arrives a day after Congress approved a waiver for Austin, who retired from the military in 2016, granting him an exemption from a rule that the top Pentagon’s top civilian must be out of uniform for seven years before being allowed to serve in the role.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had raised concerns over needing to grant a waiver for the second time in four years, with the Senate Armed Services Committee holding a hearing on civilian control of the military and House Armed Services Committee members meeting with Austin for a closed-door meeting before voting on Thursday.
Several senators who voted against a waiver for Austin in turn voted in favor of his conformation on Friday, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)
“Secretary Austin’s strong, bipartisan confirmation will help restore direction at a Defense Department that was too often and too long without confirmed leadership under the previous administration,” Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “He has pledged to go above and beyond in upholding the principle of civilian control of the military and Congress will hold him to that solemn promise. Secretary Austin’s firsthand experience and personal understanding of the terrible costs of war make him a forceful advocate for peace. He knows how to harness and leverage soft power to advance America’s interests and that strengthening alliances is a force multiplier.”
The two “no” votes were cast by Republican Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), both of whom had also opposed granting a waiver.
Austin arrived at the Pentagon by noon on Friday where he soon received an intelligence briefing followed by meetings with David Norquist, the deputy defense secretary, and Army Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the department.
He later led a COVID-19 briefing with department officials, followed by a phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and then operational briefings on China and the Middle East.
During his confirmation hearing, Austin voiced support for continuing modernization of the nuclear triad and said he would work with Navy officials to understand the necessary requirements behind the new 30-year shipbuilding plan (Defense Daily, Jan. 19).
Austin also pledged to extend his recusal from department decisions involving Raytheon [RTN], where he has served on its board, for four years and committed to not work for a defense firm after completing his government service (Defense Daily, Jan. 20).
Before his retirement from the military in March 2016, Austin oversaw operations against ISIS during his time leading U.S. CENTCOM, was the vice chief of staff of the Army from 2012 to 2013 and led the effort to withdraw combat forces in Afghanistan in 2011.