VOA Special English
President-elect Biden Chooses First Black Leader of Pentagon


    President-elect Joe Biden will name retired four-star Army general Lloyd J. Austin to be his secretary of defense. The choice – while not yet announced publicly – was confirmed to The Associated Press by four people aware of Biden’s decision.

    Biden offered the position to Austin on Sunday and he accepted, said one of the people aware of the process. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black leader of the Pentagon.

    As a career military officer, the 67-year-old Austin may face opposition. The secretary of defense is a political job. Some congressmen and others believe in clearly separating civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon.

    Although many former defense secretaries have served briefly in the military, only two — George C. Marshall and James Mattis — have been career military officers. Marshall was the organizer of the post-war European Recovery Program, also called the Marshall Plan.

    Congress created the position of secretary of defense in 1947 as a way to make sure the agency is kept under civilian control. It set a legal rule requiring that a former member of the military must be retired for seven years or more before being permitted to serve.

    Austin retired from the Army in 2016. So he will need to receive a special congressional waiver in order to become secretary of defense. President Donald Trump’s first Pentagon chief, James Mattis, also had to receive the waiver.

    Mattis’ time at the Pentagon is considered by some to show why a retired military officer should wait seven years before becoming secretary of defense. Mattis mostly looked for information and advice from other military officers and not from civilians. He resigned in December 2018 to protest some of Trump’s policies.

    Biden selected Austin over another leading candidate for the position, Michele Flournoy. Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official, would have been the first woman to serve as secretary of defense. Biden also considered Jeh Johnson, a former Pentagon lawyer and former secretary of homeland security.

    Austin is widely recognized for his military service, which includes leading troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was commander in Baghdad of the Multinational Corps-Iraq in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president. He returned to lead U.S. troops from 2010 through 2011. At the time, Biden was vice president.

    In 2009-2010, Austin ran the joint staff during part of Navy Admiral Mike Mullen’s term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Lloyd will make a superb secretary of defense,” Mullen said in a statement.

    In 2012, Austin served as the first Black vice chief of staff of the Army. The next year, he took command of U.S. Central Command. There, he created and began carrying out U.S. military plans for defeating Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

    U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Vivek Murphy, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be U.S. Surgeon General, listen as Dr. Xavier Becerra, Biden's nominee to be Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, addresses a news conference via video
    U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Vivek Murphy, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be U.S. Surgeon General, listen as Dr. Xavier Becerra, Biden's nominee to be Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, addresses a news conference via video

    Meanwhile, at an event Tuesday to introduce his new health team, Biden said the United States was about to enter a “dark winter” as it attempts to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Biden discussed the three goals of his first hundred days in office: increase the use of masks around the country, vaccinate up to 100 million Americans, and reopen the country’s schools.

    Biden’s new health team will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will be Biden’s chief medical advisor on the coronavirus. Fauci is now the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Working along with Fauci, Biden asked Jeff Zients, an economic adviser, to become coronavirus “czar.” He will run pandemic operations for the government, including the distribution of millions of doses of vaccines.

    California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was chosen as the secretary for health and human services. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, will be asked to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Vivek Murthy will return to the office of the Surgeon General, which he filled during the Obama administration.

    I’m Susan Shand.

    The Associated reported on this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    waiver – n. an official document indicating that someone has given up or waived a right or requirement

    staff – n. a group of people who work for an organization or business

    superb - adj. excellent or brilliant in a very noticeable way

    mask - n. a covering used to protect your face or cover your mouth

    distribution - n. give something out to people

    dose - n. an amount of a medicine to be taken at a given time

    We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.