President-elect Joe Biden has chosen retired General Lloyd Austin, who oversaw U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Barack Obama, to be his defense secretary, two people familiar with the decision said on Monday.
Austin, who would be the first Black U.S. secretary of defense, was a surprise pick over Michele Flournoy, a former top Defense Department official who was considered the leading contender for the job.
Flournoy would have been the first woman defense secretary.
The news was first reported by Politico.
Austin, who retired in 2016, will need a waiver from Congress since it has been less than the required seven years since he served.
He would be the second Pentagon chief in four years to need a waiver, after President Donald Trump picked James Mattis, a retired Marine general, to be his first defense secretary.
The nomination of Austin, who headed U.S. Central Command under Obama, could draw fire from some progressive groups given his role in retirement on the board of a number of companies, including weapons maker Raytheon Technologies Corp.
But Biden and Austin developed a working relationship during the Obama administration and the retired general has been advising the transition team on national security issues, one of the people familiar with the decision to name him said.
Biden’s decision to nominate the first Black defense secretary in Austin helps him make good on his diversity promise.