Trump’s Expected Pick for Top USDA Scientist Is Not a Scientist

The USDA’s research section studies everything from climate change to nutrition. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, its leader is supposed to serve as the agency’s “chief scientist” and be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” But Sam Clovis — who, according to sources with knowledge of the appointment and members of the agriculture trade press, is President Trump’s pick to oversee the section — appears to have no such credentials.

Clovis advised Trump on agricultural issues during his presidential campaign and iscurrently the senior White House advisor within the USDA, a position described by The Washington Post as “Trump’s eyes and ears” at the agency.

Clovis was also responsible for recruiting Carter Page, whose ties to Russia have become the subject of intense speculation and scrutiny, as a Trump foreign policy advisor.

Neither Clovis, nor the USDA, nor the White House responded to questions about Clovis’ nomination to be the USDA’s undersecretary for research, education and economics.

Catherine Woteki, who served as undersecretary for research, education and economics in the Obama administration, compared the move to appointing someone without a medical background to lead the National Institutes of Health. The USDA post includes overseeing scientific integrity within the agency.

“This position is the chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture. It should be a person who evaluates the scientific body of evidence and moves appropriately from there,” she said in an interview.

Clovis has repeatedly expressed skepticism over climate science and has called efforts to address climate change “simply a mechanism for transferring wealth from one group of people to another.” He has indicated the Trump administration will take a starkly different approach at the USDA. Representing the campaign at the Farm Foundation Forum in October, Clovis told E&E News that Trump’s agriculture policy would focus on boosting trade and lessening regulation and not the impact of climate change.

“I think our position is very clearly [that] Mr. Trump is a skeptic on climate change, and we need more science,” he said. “Once we get more science, we are going to make decisions.”

The USDA’s undersecretary for research, education and economics has historically consulted on a wide range of scientific issues. Woteki, for example, said she was asked for input on the Zika and Ebola outbreaks because of the USDA’s relevant research and was frequently called upon to offer guidance on homeland security issues related to food safety.

“Access to safe food and clean air and water is absolutely fundamental to personal security,” she said, adding that a scientific understanding of food safety is critical to success in the job. “Food systems are widely recognized by the national security community as being part of critical infrastructure.”

(Excerpted from ProPublcia 5/1217