U.S. defense secretary delegates responsibilities after hospitalization

(CNN) — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has delegated his duties to his deputy because he is hospitalized for treatment of symptoms “suggestive of bladder problems,” according to the Pentagon.

Austin was taken to the intensive care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and “it is unclear at this time how long he will stay,” hospital officials said in a statement Sunday night.

Shortly before 5 p.m., Deputy Secretary of Defense Katherine Hicks assumed the duties and responsibilities of the Pentagon’s top job, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder reported in a statement. The White House, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress were informed.

The Pentagon quickly notified Austin of his hospitalization in its first statement in less than three hours after the defense secretary acknowledged failing to notify the government and the public of his previous hospitalization.

Ryder said Lloyd was taken to Walter Reed around 2:20 p.m.

Austin went to the hospital armed with the unclassified and classified communications systems needed to carry out his duties.

Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December and underwent surgery on December 22 to treat the cancer. The surgery required general anesthesia and an overnight stay at Walter Reed Hospital.

He returned to the hospital on New Year’s Day due to complications from surgery.

Austin’s unannounced hospitalization was not reported to the media, President Joe Biden or other senior administration officials for several days, raising important questions about transparency within the government. Republicans have sharply criticized the Pentagon’s handling of Austin’s illness, and the defense secretary is scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee later this month about his failure to inform top government leaders.

Austin spent two weeks in the hospital and then worked from home for another two weeks to continue his recovery.

On February 1, Austin admitted at his first press conference since hospitalization that his handling of the diagnosis and hospitalization was a mistake.

“We didn’t do it right and I didn’t do it right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have told my team and the American public. I take full responsibility. I owe it to my teammates and the American people,” O Sting said.

Last week, the Office of the Secretary of Defense completed a 30-day review of the transfer notification process.

At a news conference Thursday, Ryder said Austin has received the review and is studying it. Ryder also said that much of the review is classified, but the Pentagon will try to make it as public as possible.

“We remain committed to making the review as transparent as possible and we will have more information once the ministerial review is complete,” Ryder said.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed to this article.

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