Information typically available about officials' trips, phone calls and meetings has slowed
Many leadership positions at State remain unfilled, leaving staff without direction
The State Department on Friday announced a date for resuming press briefings, after an unusual six-week hiatus.
Spokesman Mark Toner said the regular press briefings would begin again on March 6, adding in a statement that the department would “continue to be responsive to media queries and breaking news on an ongoing basis.”
The announcement comes after a CNN story Tuesday reporting that the department’s daily televised briefing hadn’t taken place since January 19 and that information typically available about officials’ trips, phone calls and meetings has slowed since the inauguration President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Toner indicated Wednesday that the briefings would be resuming at some point and could possibly provide reporters outside of Washington new access to the news conferences via remote video capabilities.
The State Department, however, has still not specified whether the briefings will adhere to the past practice of occurring near daily and on camera.
The State Department is responsible for explaining US foreign policy to the country and the world, and is the only agency outside the White House that traditionally speaks publicly every day through a televised news conference.
Beyond communicating to US taxpayers how the government is representing their interests overseas, that daily briefing and public outreach by the department serves to put the global community – both friends and enemies – on notice about American priorities and interests.
Since Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the helm February 2, there has been little in the way of communication about Foggy Bottom’s priorities, schedules or policies. Current and former State Department staffers and observers have said that might be a function of Tillerson getting settled into a new and enormously challenging job.
They also point to the possibility that the White House may be seeking to take the lead on foreign policy. And they flag a nuts-and-bolts problem: Many leadership positions at State remain unfilled, leaving staff without direction.
As a former ExxonMobil CEO, Tillerson himself comes from a corporate culture that isn’t particularly open to the press.
And a careful silence might seem safer for now, one former State Department official suggested, given that the administration’s foreign policy has included many mixed messages, with Trump publicly establishing positions that other Cabinet members have publicly rejected.