WASHINGTON — U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to tap Kathleen Hicks as deputy secretary of defense and Colin Kahl as the undersecretary of defense for policy, bringing in two experienced hands to guide the Pentagon under the defense secretary nominee, Lloyd Austin.
“These respected, accomplished civilian leaders will help lead the Department of Defense with integrity and resolve, safeguard the lives and interests of the American people, and ensure that we fulfill our most sacred obligation: to equip and protect those who serve our country, and to care for them and their families both during and after their service,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”
Hicks would be the highest-ranking civilian woman confirmed by the Senate to a job at the Pentagon. (Christine Fox served as acting deputy secretary for several months during the Obama administration, but was not confirmed for that role.) Hicks’ selection comes after Biden picked Austin over Michèle Flournoy for the top DoD job, which increased pressure on the Biden team to pick a woman for the No. 2 role at the department.
A former Obama-era undersecretary of defense for policy and the current leader of Biden’s DoD transition team — which is currently enmeshed in a fight with the Trump administration about access at the department — Hicks is a well-known voice in national security circles. Since leaving the department, she has served on a number of congressionally mandated boards and has been a fixture at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Hicks and Frank Kendall, a former acquisition head at the department, were seen as the two finalists for the role; Kendall has also been mentioned as a potential Army secretary nominee.
Kahl will take over the policy shop after several years of what analysts and officials there described as being sidelined by both Trump administration officials and the joint staff. Kahl served as an action officer in the policy shop early in his career, and was deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from 2009 to 2011.
Most notably, he served as then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser from 2014 to 2017, giving him a direct relationship to President Barack Obama — something that may be useful in the policy role, which involves coordination with other government agencies.
The selections of Kahl and Hicks continue a trend of the Biden team picking people who have a close relationship to the president-elect and his team.
Magsamen, currently vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, brings both National Security Council experience and Pacific-focused knowledge to the job of Austin’s chief of staff. She served as principle deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, later performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for that role.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.