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White House Sets New Absence Policy as Austin Is Set to Return

(Bloomberg) -- US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is recovering well after surgery for prostate cancer and subsequent complications that left him hospitalized for two weeks, doctors said, as the White House announced new delegation-of-authority policies for senior administration officials designed to avert similar crises in the future.

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Austin, 70, visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland on Friday for a routine checkup, his doctors said in a statement. CNN reported he would return to the office Monday after several days working from home.

“He continues to recover well and is expected to make a full recovery,” the doctors said. “Secretary Austin’s prostate cancer was treated early and effectively, and his prognosis is excellent.”

Austin underwent treatment for prostate cancer last month and was later hospitalized for complications, but didn’t tell the White House for several days. He waited even longer to disclose that he had prostate cancer. The episode provoked consternation at the White House and calls from some congressional Republicans to resign over the handling of his illness.

On Friday, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients outlined new procedures for cabinet secretaries to follow in a memo obtained by Bloomberg. Among the new requirements: those in the cabinet must notify the Office of Cabinet Affairs and White House chief of staff when they are preparing to undergo hospitalization or a medical procedure requiring general anesthesia, or traveling to areas with limited or no access to communication.

Senior staffers filling in for cabinet secretaries during illness or vacation will be required to liase with their counterparts at the White House, and leaders will need to document in writing each time authority is transfered or returned to a cabinet leader.

“Through this process we are assured that all agencies have a set of standard protocols they must follow in the event of a delegation of authority,” Zients said.

Earlier: Austin Urges Ukraine Aid in First Appearance Since Surgery

Austin, who guards his privacy closely, later apologized for the way he handled the situation. The defense chief made his first public appearance since the episode on Jan. 23, when he appeared via video link from home at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

That same day, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Defense Department was working through what Austin’s “schedule will look like once he’s able to get back to work in the Pentagon.”

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