Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has agreed to testify at a congressional hearing later this month to answer questions about his failure to immediately communicate his recent hospitalization to top officials.
Austin will appear before the House Armed Services Committee committee on Feb. 29, panel spokesperson Justine Tripathi told NBC News.
Last week, the defense secretary returned to the Pentagon for the first time since his hospitalization and apologized for not properly handling and communicating his cancer diagnosis and treatment to President Joe Biden, Pentagon staff and the general public.
“I want to be crystal clear. We did not handle this right, and I did not handle this right,” Austin told reporters. “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. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”
Austin was admitted to the hospital Jan. 1, after experiencing complications from prostate cancer surgery days earlier, but his aides did not tell the White House about his hospitalization until Jan. 4. He also didn’t inform President Joe Biden or other top officials about the cancer diagnosis he received in early December until Jan. 9 — just hours before officials at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center released the information publicly.
Both Austin and the Department of Defense have been under fire from lawmakers over the defense secretary’s failure to immediately communicate his condition to key administration officials.
House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., launched a formal inquiry into the matter last month, sending Austin a letter on Jan. 18 requesting he appear at an upcoming hearing.
“I expect your full honesty and cooperation in this matter,” Rogers wrote. “Anything short of that is completely unacceptable.”
Several Republican lawmakers called on Austin to resign following the debacle. Last month, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the Pentagon’s delay in notifying the White House “unacceptable,” saying it showed a “shocking defiance of the law” on the part of the Department of Defense.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also expressed concern over Austin’s behavior, calling it a “terrible mistake in judgment.”
Defense officials have said the department has already instituted some changes in procedure since the incident.