Biden Picks First Woman to Serve as Deputy Defense Secretary

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate former Pentagon official Kathleen Hicks to serve as the first female deputy defense secretary, saying he wanted someone who knows the department “inside and out” to help restore order to an agency he says was cast into disarray by President Donald Trump.

Colin Kahl, who served as Biden’s national security adviser when he was vice president, will be nominated for undersecretary of defense for policy.

The new additions to Biden’s national security team, announced Wednesday, signal a return to experienced hands after Trump has run through a number of defense leaders, including two confirmed secretaries and three acting secretaries of defense. Biden complained Monday that critical national security posts have been “hollowed out” in personnel, capacity and morale.

Hicks and Kahl would report to Lloyd Austin, the retired four-star Army general and Raytheon Technologies Corp. board member who Biden has tapped to be secretary of Defense.

Austin’s nomination faces an additional hurdle in that both chambers of Congress would have to approve a waiver to a law prohibiting recently retired military officers to fill the top civilian job at the department. Neither Hicks nor Kahl have served in the military.

Hicks, who heads Biden’s Pentagon transition team, is a think-tank expert on national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is on the board of Aerospace Corporation. She served as deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and forces from 2009-2012 and as principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy from 2012-2013.

Largest Bureaucracy

She would have the No. 2 job at the Pentagon, which directs day-to-day management of the largest federal bureaucracy. Biden has also said he wants the department to take on bigger roles in vaccine distribution and climate policy under his administration.

Kori Schake, director of national security programs for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, praised Hicks as “serious-minded and experienced.” She cited the role Hicks played in developing two major defense policy blueprints in the Obama administration and on a congressionally mandated advisory panel that analyzed the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which has driven Defense Department spending. Hicks was a “stalwart on the commission, driving its analysis,” Schake said.

Kahl, a professor at Stanford University, has served in a number of Pentagon roles, most recently as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Kelly Magsamen, a former National Security Council and Pentagon staffer now at the Center for American Progress, will serve as chief of staff to the secretary of defense, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Biden’s Pentagon picks come as he has complained publicly that current Defense Department officials are denying meetings and refusing to turn over details of force posture and budget requests. Trump is still contesting the results of the election.

Biden also named 27 new staff members in the White House’s presidential personnel office, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the vice president’s office, the staff secretary’s office and the office of Oval Office Operations. The transition team said these new appointments mean that Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have surpassed their goal of naming 100 White House staff members by the end of the year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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