WASHINGTON—Gen. Lloyd Austin appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and sought to address concerns on Capitol Hill about installing a recently retired general to lead the Pentagon.
“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” Gen. Austin told lawmakers during the hearing for his confirmation as President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of defense. “I spent my entire life committed to that principle. In war and in peace I implemented the policies of civilians elected and appointed over me.”
The modern Defense Department was designed to have a civilian leader and a team of senior uniformed officers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advising the president. Gen. Austin retired from the U.S. Army only in 2016, so the law requires him to receive a waiver from Congress to hold the job of secretary of defense, in addition to winning the Senate confirmation required of most cabinet-level appointees.
The senators on the panel questioned Gen. Austin about his commitment to civilian control and his intention to install civilians at the Defense Department’s upper reaches.
Laws safeguarding civilian control of the military require the top Pentagon civilian job to be held by someone out of uniform for seven years, unless Congress votes to waive the rule. Gen. Austin, 67 years old, would become the second recent Pentagon leader to require a congressional waiver, following retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who was President Trump’s first defense secretary.