Opening Statement (As Prepared)
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For senior executive branch officials, balancing personal privacy with the need for transparency and clear communication with the Chain of Command, Congress, and the public is difficult. While there is no requirement to get into every detail, to ensure continuity of government and to maintain public confidence, it is necessary to have a clear transfer of authority within the Office of the Secretary of Defense when circumstances require it. Secretary Austin himself acknowledged that there were mistakes made in the notification process for the transfers of authority related to his absences in December and January.  How this situation was handled, and the measures being taken to improve these processes going forward, are legitimate topics for this committee to review.
While I believe this topic is relevant and important, and I look forward to hearing Secretary Austin’s testimony, I would be remiss if I didn’t state that we should not allow this topic to take our focus away from the many other important topics that demand our attention. The war in Ukraine and the current unrest in the Middle East are the most urgent examples. But we must also pass the supplemental and the FY24 appropriations bills, a year-long CR would be catastrophic for the work we are doing to modernize the force, generate readiness, and engage in strategic competition.
With this hearing, it is my hope that we get the answers we need about the Secretary’s absence and move on to these other pressing topics.