We’ve been outraged by Pruitt, apprehensive about Perdue and now with Trump’s latest nomination — this time for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s lead scientist position — we’re frankly baffled. Trump is expected to tap Sam Clovis, co-chair of his presidential campaign, as head of USDA’s Research, Education and Economics division. He appears to be stunningly unqualified for the job.
This high-level position has traditionally been reserved for scientists with expertise in agriculture research — recent appointments include a plant physiologist, a comparative biochemist and an M.D./M.S. health economist. These seem logical choices, since the holder of the job is responsible for coordinating USDA’s broad research portfolio and overseeing scientific integrity issues.
Clovis is a far cry from these experts in science and agriculture. To start with, he’s not a scientist.
Far from qualified
Just who is Trump's latest nominee then? Clovis is a conservative radio talk show host who was unsuccessful in a 2014 run for Senate in his native Iowa. He has no professional experience in food or agriculture, and is openly skeptical of climate change. He was co-chair of Trump’s campaign and has since been serving as the Department of Agriculture's senior White House adviser.
Here's Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program for Union of Concerned Scientists on the looming nomination:
If the president goes forward with this nomination, it’ll be yet another example of blatant dismissal of the value of scientific expertise among his administration appointees. Continuing to choose politics over science will give farmers and consumers little confidence that the administration has their interests at heart.”
Between this news and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s controversial USDA reorganization plan — in which he proposes to eliminate the undersecretary of rural development, which coordinates loans and grant programs supporting rural housing, healthcare and utility projects — rural America seems to be less than a top priority for the agency that is slated to look out for them.
Not so fast, Trump
But the 2008 Farm Bill included an update to the job description of USDA's top science job, clarifying that the position “shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education and economics.”
This language gives the Senate clear authority to block this nomination on the grounds that Clovis is not a distinguished scientist.
It's likely, however, that they'll need convincing. Urge your senator to say no to Sam Clovis as head of Research, Education and Economics at USDA, for the sake of a healthy food and agriculture system, thriving rural communities and scientific integrity in our public agencies.