Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumes duties after successful follow-up medical procedure

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “underwent a successful, elective, and minimally invasive follow-up non-surgical procedure related to his bladder issue at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center” on Friday and has resumed his duties as secretary, according to the Pentagon.

The procedure took 2.5 hours, during which time his authorities were temporarily transferred to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.

Austin subsequently resumed his functions and duties as the secretary of defense at 8:25 p.m. ET and has returned home, Ryder said.

The procedure was related to a bladder issue Austin suffered as a result of a surgery he underwent to treat prostate cancer last year. Ryder announced that Austin would undergo the planned procedure earlier Friday.

The notification from Ryder is part of the Pentagon’s attempt to be more transparent about Austin’s health – Austin underwent two surgeries at Walter Reed in December and January without telling the president, his deputy, or the public, sparking controversy. He later admitted he should have disclosed his hospitalizations and pledged to be more transparent.

“I want to be crystal clear: We did not handle this right. And I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility,” Austin said in February, weeks after he was hospitalized on New Year’s Day following complications from a previous surgery on December 22 to treat his cancer. “I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”

Austin was hospitalized on January 1 for complications related to the prostate cancer surgical procedure in December, including severe abdominal, hip and leg pain. He transferred his authorities to Hicks during both procedures, Ryder has said. But Hicks was not informed either time why the secretary was delegating his powers to her. At the time of the January 1 procedure, Hicks was in Puerto Rico on vacation and had to exercise the secretary’s authorities from there.

A Pentagon review of Austin’s delayed notification of his January hospitalization found there was no deliberate attempt to “obfuscate” the situation, but did find that Austin’s staff was unwilling to share information out of concern for privacy. The review also made a series of recommendations to improve processes around the transfer of authorities to his deputy.

The review made eight total recommendations, which Austin has said he will be implementing. Those mostly focus on processes and guidelines, such as requiring proposed training or communication plans to ensure officials and their staffs are aware of their responsibilities during a transfer of authority. Austin has also directed a review of internal reporting requirements for transfer of authorities from the general counsel.

Friday’s announcement of Austin’s procedure came as he was meeting with Kenyan President William Ruto at the Pentagon. Moments before the press release came out, Austin and Ruto were making opening remarks ahead of their bilateral meeting, expressing their interest in working closely together and recognizing the close relationship between the US and Kenya.

This headline and story have been updated with additional details.

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