Biden Taps Kathleen Hicks to Be the Pentagon's First Female Deputy SecDef

Robert B. Neller speaks to Kathleen H. Hicks
Then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller speaks to Senior Vice President and Director of the International Security Program, Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks at the Center for Strategic International Studies, Washington, D.C., Jan. 25, 2018. (Olivia G. Ortiz/U.S. Marine Corps)

President-Elect Joe Biden has selected a recipient of the Defense Department Senior Professional Women's Association Excellence in Leadership Award to be the Pentagon's No. 2 official.

Dr. Kathleen Hicks, most recently senior vice president and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will be nominated for deputy secretary of defense, Biden announced Wednesday. Hicks has also led Biden's Defense Department transition team, working to coordinate Pentagon briefings since the election.

Dr. Colin Kahl, who served as Biden's national security adviser while he was vice president, will be nominated as deputy secretary of defense for policy.

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In the release, Hicks and Kahl are described as "crisis-tested patriots" who will work with former Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden's choice for secretary of defense, " to keep us safe and secure and ensure our defense policies are accountable to the American people."

"Dr. Kath Hicks and Dr. Colin Kahl have the broad experience and crisis-tested judgment necessary to help tackle the litany of challenges we face today, and all those we may confront tomorrow," Biden said in a statement. "They will be trusted partners to me, the vice president-elect, and Secretary-designate Austin -- as well as our dedicated civilian and military team -- as we work to restore responsible American leadership on the world stage."

Hicks served in the Pentagon during the Obama-Biden administration, working as deputy under secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and forces and then as principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy. In that position, she liaised for the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review and led development of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance.

Prior to her Senate-confirmed position, she held various roles in the office of the Secretary of Defense, earning the Distinguished Service Award from three SecDefs and a chairman of the Joint Chiefs, according to her official bio.

While at CSIS, she has also been the Donald Marron scholar at the Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a member of the Aerospace Corporation's board of trustees.

She would be the first woman to hold the Senate-confirmed role of deputy secretary of defense; Christine Fox previously served in the job in acting capacity for several months from 2013-2014.

Kahl, who also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East under Obama, was a key architect of efforts to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and bring Operation Iraqi Freedom to a close and worked to further DoD efforts to limit Iran's ability to acquire nuclear weapons.

An academic, he has been an associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service; a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Steven C. Házy Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Biden surprised many in Washington by selecting Austin to lead the Pentagon rather than DoD veteran Michele Flournoy, widely expected to be named the first female defense secretary. Austin will require a congressional waiver for confirmation, as he retired in 2016 and has not been out of uniform the minimum seven years prescribed by law. Of note, Hicks was among those who testified in favor of a waiver for another recently retired general, Jim Mattis, in 2017. Mattis ultimately received the waiver and was confirmed as SecDef.

"[Hicks and Kahl] share my strong belief that we need empowered civilian voices serving alongside military leaders at the Department of Defense to ensure we are always accountable to the American people," Austin said in a statement. If confirmed, I look forward to working with them to take on the crises we face in the current moment and prepare ourselves for the challenges of the future."

Efforts to coordinate transition briefs between the Pentagon, led by Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, and the Hicks-led Biden transition team have been remarkably contentious. The transition team has repeatedly accused the Pentagon of failing to answer queries and comply with requests for meetings and information, charges Miller's team has vehemently denied.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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