President-elect Joe Biden has picked Kathleen Hicks, a former Pentagon official under President Obama, to serve as deputy defense secretary, according to three people familiar with the discussions. If confirmed, she would make history as the first woman to hold the No. 2 Pentagon job.
Formerly a civil servant in the office of the secretary of defense who rose to hold several top jobs in defense policy and strategy, Hicks has been the rumored front runner for the No. 2 Pentagon job for months. Since November, Hicks has led the Biden transition effort at the Pentagon as director of the Department of Defense agency review team. She most recently served as senior vice president, Henry Kissinger chair and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Biden has also settled on Colin Kahl, another former Pentagon official overseeing Middle East Affairs who was national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden, be undersecretary of defense for policy. Kahl is currently co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.
Meanwhile, Kelly Magsamen, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs now at the Center for American Progress, will be Pentagon chief of staff.
The choice of Hicks is in some ways an olive branch to a prominent group of female national security leaders who pushed for Biden to choose Michèle Flournoy, another former Obama Pentagon official, for the top Pentagon job. Biden passed over Flournoy to choose Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star general, as his defense secretary nominee.
Hicks “knows the building, long history there. Plus, glass shattering pick,” said one of the people. “Having gender diversity is important at the top.”
The move also sends a signal that Biden wants stronger civilian oversight of the military, after the Pentagon’s civilian workforce declined in numbers and influence throughout President Donald Trump’s presidency. Some experts worried that choosing another former military officer to run the Pentagon, just four years after Trump picked retired Gen. Jim Mattis as his first defense secretary, would further erode civilian control of the building.
It also is a reassuring sign to members of the national security community who have sounded the alarm over Austin’s lack of experience in countering China, which they believe is the Pentagon’s most urgent challenge. She helped implement Obama’s pivot to Asia at the Pentagon in the early 2010s, and has written frequently on China’s rise.
Hicks did not respond to a request for comment. A transition spokesperson declined to comment.
Tyler Pager contributed to the report.
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