According to a report from Politico, Joe Biden has picked retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to head the incoming administration’s Defense Department.
Austin served as the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2013 to 2016, overseeing US operations in the Middle East. After retiring from the Army in 2016, Austin joined the board of Raytheon, one of the largest US defense contractors. He also serves on the board of the Nucor Corporation, a major US steel producer, and Tenet Healthcare.
Since Austin has not been out of the military for seven years, he will require a waiver from Congress to take the position. President Trump had to secure a waiver for Jim Mattis in 2017, the current administration’s first Pentagon chief, who also served on the board of a US arms company before his appointment.
The Biden transition team was under fire from progressives over rumors that Michele Flournoy would be picked to head the Pentagon. One of the gripes progressives had with Flournoy is her deep ties with the arms industry. Flournoy serves on the board of the defense firm Booz Allen Hamilton and co-founded the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a hawkish think tank that receives hefty contributions from weapons makers.
In November, two progressive House Democrats penned a letter to Joe Biden, urging him not to appoint a secretary of defense who has previously worked in the weapons industry. In the letter, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) cited Trump’s appointment of Mattis and his successors Patrick Shanahan and Mark Esper, who also worked in the arms industry.
The Biden transition team was also under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus to choose a black secretary of defense. If appointed, Austin would be the first black Pentagon chief. Reports said Biden was also considering former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for the position. Johnson, another black man, serves on the board of Lockheed Martin.