More Pentagon, White House staff picks announced for Biden administration

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More names for the Biden-Harris administration were released Wednesday, including members of the Defense Department, Office of Legislative Affairs and the White House Presidential Personnel Office.

Kathleen Hicks

Joe Biden nominated Kathleen Hicks as the deputy secretary of Defense, and Colin Kahl as under secretary of Defense for Policy.

Hicks’ national security background is extensive: She is currently senior vice president, Henry A. Kissinger Chair and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Before that, she was principal deputy under secretary of Defense for Policy and deputy under secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Forces – both under the Obama administration. She was also a career civil servant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and a member of the Senior Executive Service.

She was also on the National Commission on the Future of the Army, which in 2016 recommended a draw down of the Army’s force size as well as ways to retain and recruit talent in the service.

Kahl is co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, a Steven C. Házy Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a professor of political science at Stanford University. He is a long-time national security adviser to Biden, and for the first two years of the Obama administration he was deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East. According to his biography on the Spogli Institute’s website, his current research concerns the geopolitical consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and emerging technologies including artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Colin Kahl

Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s choice for Defense secretary, commented on Hicks’ and Kahl’s nominations and their experience as civil servants, which contrasts his own military background. This distinction is reportedly seen as a sticking point for Austin’s confirmation because the role is not a military one, and so a congressional waiver is required for recently retired generals.

But the waiver was approved as recently as 2017 for then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and at the time Hicks even testified to lawmakers that she felt the waiver was appropriate so long as it was due to Mattis’ unique qualifications.

“[Hicks and Kahl] share my strong belief that we need empowered civilian voices serving alongside military leaders at the Department of Defense to ensure we are always accountable to the American people. If confirmed, I look forward to working with them to take on the crises we face in the current moment and prepare ourselves for the challenges of the future,” Austin said in a statement.

However, if all were approved, Hicks and Austin would join the 61% of new appointees who are women and 54% of new appointees who are people of color. The Biden administration pledged to form a more diverse and inclusive team along race, sex and gender lines. So far, 11% of White House staff picks are LGBTQ+, and about 20% are first-generation Americans, according to the transition team.

Other names announced Wednesday include Zephranie Buetow, Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers, Christopher Garcia, Ashley Jones, Alicia Molt-West, Angela Ramirez, Dana Shubat, Lee Slater and Chris Slevin to the Office of Legislative Affairs.

For the Presidential Personnel Office – the office responsible for recruiting and vetting presidential appointees – Biden nominated Karen Andre, Jamie Citron, Corina Cortez, Matt Dannenberg, Dani Durante, Stacy Eichner, Danielle Okai, Katie Petrelius, Jacob Sztraicher, Rachel Wallace, Allison Wong and Thomas Zimmerman.

Biden earlier named Ron Klain, his chief of staff when he was vice president and the Ebola response coordinator for the White House in 2014, to be the incoming White House chief of staff. Perhaps the biggest priority facing the president-elect after Inauguration Day is combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring vaccine distribution.

“The president-elect and vice president-elect have been committed to building a White House team that is filled with crisis-tested experts who will hit the ground running on day one,” Klain said in a statement Wednesday.

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