President-elect Biden will nominate retired four-star Army general Lloyd J. Austin to be secretary of defense, according to four people familiar with the decision who spoke to the AP. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black leader of the Pentagon. Biden selected Austin over the longtime frontrunner candidate, Michele Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official and Biden supporter who would have been the first woman to serve as defense secretary. Biden also had considered Jeh Johnson, a former Pentagon general counsel and former secretary of homeland defense. Biden offered and Austin accepted the post on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the process. Three sources who spoke to Politico say a formal announcement could come as soon as Tuesday. Austin's nomination, however, is already proving controversial.
As a career military officer, the 67-year-old Austin is likely to face opposition from some in Congress and in the defense establishment who believe in drawing a clear line between civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon. Although many previous defense secretaries have served briefly in the military, only two—George C. Marshall and James Mattis—have been career officers. Marshall also served as secretary of state. Like Mattis, Austin would need to obtain a congressional waiver to serve as defense secretary since he has not been retired for the necessary seven years. Congress intended civilian control of the military when it created the position of secretary of defense in 1947 and prohibited a recently retired military officer from holding the position. Austin is a 1975 graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point and served 41 years in uniform. He retired from the Army in 2016. (More on his history here.)