Law might make Clovis appointment as scientist difficult
A provision in the 2008 farm bill might make it difficult for the Trump administration to name Sam Clovis, the current Agriculture Department liaison with the White House, as the department’s chief scientist, a former USDA civil servant has told The Hagstrom Report.
A report in Pro Publica said that the Trump administration is considering naming Clovis, a former college professor, Iowa talk show host and Trump campaign aide, as the Agriculture Department’s undersecretary for research, education and economics, a position that also carries the title chief scientist. The undersecretary position requires Senate confirmation.
As the Pro Publica report notes, Clovis was a professor of business and public policy at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, but he is not a scientist. He is also considered a climate change denier, the report said.
The former USDA civil servant also said there is a rumor within the USDA that the White House wants to separate the undersecretary position from that of the chief scientist to avoid Clovis’s lack of scientific credentials, but “It appears it would be difficult to just designate the chief scientist as a separate person from the undersecretary.”
The former civil servant pointed out that the 2008 farm bill conference report says, “The conference substitute requires the undersecretary for research, education, and economics to have specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics. The undersecretary is designated as the chief scientist of the department and is tasked with the coordination of the research, education, and extensionactivities of the department.”
This undersecretary is the only one at USDA who must meet a specific set of qualifications, but they were designated by Congress “to ensure that a professional oversees the science of USDA,” the former civil servant noted.
The possibility of the Clovis appointment raised a ruckus over the weekend, garnering rare national attention for USDA’s research function. The controversy has also arisen at a time when land-grant universities and other organizations are mounting a campaign to convince Congress to put more money into public research, arguing that China and other countries are putting more public money into research while the U.S. has fallen behind.
Ricardo Salvador, the director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a news release Saturday, “If President Trump wants to deliver on his campaign promises of keeping Americans safe, as well as ensuring greater prosperity for farmers and rural communities, this selection for lead scientist is not only the wrong choice, but a slap in the face to those constituencies.”
“Mr. Clovis denies the science of climate change and has no credentials that qualify him to assess the complicated scientific issues at play in agricultural systems, nutrition and food safety,” Salvador said. “American consumers and farmers deserve a nominee who has demonstrated ability to make evidence-based decisions to ensure department policies are both sustainable and successful.
“The chief scientist position should be held by someone who understands and respects the role of science at the USDA, especially given their role in overseeing scientific integrity across the department.
“A recent investigation by the USDA’s Inspector General Office found that many scientists in the department aren’t aware of current scientific integrity policies and wouldn’t know how to report a scientific integrity issue. There’s clearly more work to do at the agency to uphold and advance scientific integrity policies making Mr. Clovis, as a non-scientist, a poor fit for this leadership post.”
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