WASHINGTON, July 20, 2017 - Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is questioning whether Sam Clovis, whom President Trump plans to nominate as USDA's Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), has the right resume for the job.
Clovis, she said, “seems to lack the necessary agricultural science and research qualifications that are required by the Farm Bill,” referring to a legal requirement added in the 2008 farm bill that the under secretary for research, education and economics be chosen from “among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”
As REE under secretary, Clovis would have the title of chief scientist at the department and would oversee the Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Economic Research Service, and National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Stabenow praised the experience of the other two candidates announced in the past week for top USDA posts – American Soybean Association President Steve Censky to be USDA Deputy Secretary and Indiana Agriculture Director Ted McKinney to be the department’s first undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
But when it comes to Clovis, she said she has "strong concerns" that he is not qualified and has "many questions about his troubling views on climate change and providing public investment in crop insurance and education."
Clovis has called himself a climate change “skeptic.” In a 2014 interview with Iowa Public Radio, when he was running for the U.S. Senate, he said when asked about man’s impact on the climate, “I have looked at the science and I have enough of a science background to know when I’m being boofed. And a lot of the science is junk science. It’s not proven; I don’t think there’s any substantive information available to me that doesn’t raise as many questions as it does answers. So I’m a skeptic.”
Stabenow’s statement stopped short of outright opposition.
“Over the past six months, there have been too many vacant leadership positions at the USDA,” she said. Our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities deserve strong and experienced leaders at the department to make sure their voices are heard in this administration. I intend to take a close look at each nominee to ensure they are up for the task.”
Clovis’s choice received criticism from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which also referred to the law’s requirements for the position. Clovis, UCS said, is “legally and scientifically unqualified to direct nearly $3 billion a year in research grants and ensure that research supported by and scientific advice provided to the department is ‘held to the highest standards of intellectual rigor and scientific integrity,’” UCS said, quoting from language on USDA’s Office of the Chief Scientist’s web page.
An administration source close to the nomination process said it’s important to keep in mind that Clovis has still not been formally nominated. Of the three names announced in the past week, the White House has only sent Censky’s name to the Senate.
The Senate Agriculture Committee would hold confirmation hearings on Censky, McKinney and Clovis – provided the latter two are formally nominated.
North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a key Democrat on the ag committee, said today, “We’re still considering it” when asked about Clovis.
Clovis, who was chief policy advisor and national co-chair of the Trump-Pence campaign, has a B.S. in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University and a doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama. After graduating from the Air Force Academy, he served in the Air Force for 25 years. Most recently, he has been a senior White House adviser at USDA since Trump took office.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue praised the choice of Clovis yesterday. Today, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture did the same, although its press release focused more on McKinney, who currently chairs NASDA’s Plant Agriculture & Pesticide Committee.
“Ted's years of service at the Indiana Department of Agriculture and in the private sector have prepared him to be a phenomenal leader for American agriculture around the world,” NASDA President and Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry Mike Strain said. “Ted will be a wonderful advocate for continuously enhancing the state-federal collaboration NASDA Members share with the USDA. We look forward to working with Ted to advance agriculture exports and grow global opportunities for U.S. farmers and ranchers.”
As for Clovis, “NASDA looks forward to working with USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission area under Dr. Clovis’ leadership and helping further their mission of creating a safe, sustainable and competitive food and fiber system.”
Other leading farm groups weighed in on the White House announcement. American Soybean Association President Ron Moore called McKinney “a person that understands the global nature of our business, and has represented farmers well in both the public and private sectors.” As head of Indiana’s ag department, “and in his previous leadership roles within the agriculture industry, Ted has exemplified the understanding of how as American farmers our work impacts and is impacted by the world around us,” Moore said.
Moore also had kind words for Clovis, saying his “Iowa and rural Kansas roots will serve him well as the department moves to serve farmers in the fields of research and economics. Dr. Clovis understands the importance of agricultural research to farmers, our ongoing success, and the success of future generations of farmers. He also is well acquainted with the economic issues facing farmers and ranchers. We will look to Dr. Clovis to help advance USDA’s mission in these important fields.”
CropLife America praised the choices of both McKinney and Clovis. “Dr. Clovis has been working with USDA since January and proven that he is a voice for U.S. agriculture,” CLA President and CEO Jay Vroom said. “He understands the importance of relying on sound science and data to make important decisions that will affect the ability of growers to provide food for the U.S. and the world. His dedication to agricultural issues will be a great asset to USDA.”
“The administration’s nomination of Ted McKinney shows the importance of the farmer’s voice in Washington D.C.,” Vroom said, adding that McKinney “has the background to deal with the complexities of agriculture-focused trade and foreign affairs on behalf of USDA.”
The National Corn Growers Association, put out a statement praising McKinney but making no mention of Clovis. “McKinney is an excellent choice” for the under secretary of trade post, NCGA said. “He has a longstanding record of service to the agriculture industry, and will be a strong advocate for U.S. agriculture on the global stage. We urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm him, so that our industry is in the best position to capitalize on increased global demand for our products."
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