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Biden to pick Trump’s deputy DOD chief to head DOD until SecDef nominee confirmed, reports say

Then-Pentagon Comptroller David L. Norquist, Feb. 12, 2018. (Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)
January 14, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist of the current administration to head his Department of Defense until his Secretary of Defense pick nominee is confirmed, Politico reported.

It’s not clear how long it may take Biden’s nominee, retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin, to be confirmed. Several Democrat lawmakers have expressed their opposition to confirming Austin.

Austin, 67, retired from the Army in 2016, and because his service was within the past seven years, he will need a congressional waiver to fill the Secretary of Defense position. A waiver was last issued to James Mattis – President Donald Trump’s first Secretary of Defense during 2017-2019.

Some lawmakers have said that issuing another waiver so soon would jeopardize the department.

“The reason for the principle of civilian control is not only to protect our democracy against military interference, it is to protect the military against excessive interference — political partisan interference –that may jeopardize the professionalism and effectiveness of our military,” said Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Marine Corps veteran.

Democrat Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Army National Guard veteran, said that Austin will likely have personal relationships with high-ranking leaders in the military, putting them “in a difficult situation.” Duckworth also added that the seven-year rule was too short.

Lindsay Cohn, a Naval War College professor, told lawmakers that the waiver granted to Mattis was a once-in-a-generation exception, and granting another so soon sets “a dangerous precedent.”

Norquist has served in his current role since July 2019 and has served under three different defense secretaries during the Trump administration. He formerly served as the Pentagon’s comptroller.

Austin previously led the military’s Central Command under former-President Obama. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975 and served 41 years before retiring. If confirmed, he would be the third career military officer to serve as Secretary of Defense, behind Mattis and George C. Marshall, who served as President Harry Truman’s Secretary of Defense during 1950-1951.