It looks like Sam Clovis, President Trump’s nominee for the top science position at the Department of Agriculture, is the latest person to notice that he would bring no relevant science background to the role.
When asked by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, what kind of experience he has in either agricultural or natural sciences, Clovis’ reply was simple: none.
“Please list all graduate level courses you have taken in natural science,” Stabenow asked in a letter obtained by the Washington Post.
“None,” Clovis replied.
Stabenow continued, asking Clovis to “list all membership and leadership roles you have held within any agricultural scientific, agricultural education, or agricultural economic organizations.” Again, Clovis replied “none.”
Stabenow then asked Clovis to “describe any awards, designations, or academic recognition you have received specifically related to agricultural science,” to which Clovis also replied “none.”
Clovis has been nominated for undersecretary of research, education, and economics at the USDA, where he would oversee hundreds of science programs and thousands of scientists within the agency. USDA scientists conduct research on a wide variety of topics, from nutritional health to plant breeding. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) — the agency’s main science program — has an operating budget of more than $1 billion.
When asked to list any “specialized training or significant experience, including certifications…in agricultural research,” Clovis said that he would bring “7 years of agriculture experience integrated into both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses throughout my teaching career” and that his unsuccessful 2014 bid for U.S. Senate in Iowa also gave him “significant agricultural experience and knowledge.”
Clovis holds a doctorate in public administration and was a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, before joining the Trump campaign in 2015 as national co-chair. At Morningside College, none of Clovis’ listed academic work includes “agriculture.” Clovis also noted that he sometimes discussed agriculture on his conservative talk radio show, which he hosted from 2010 to 2013.
Clovis does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, calling it “junk science” and “not proven” in a 2014 interview with Iowa Public Radio. In an interview with E&E News from October 2016, Clovis said that a Trump administration would not prioritize climate change at the USDA, a sharp break from the Obama administration, which sought to tackle agriculture’s contribution to global warming and help farmers adapt to climatic changes. Despite carrying a majority of farmers in the presidential election, Trump has been slow to fill leadership positions within the USDA and has targeted the agency with deep budget cuts.
Past undersecretaries of research, education, and economics have brought significant experience in the natural, agricultural, or nutritional sciences. Catherine Woteki, the last person to hold the position, was global director of scientific affairs for Mars, Inc and dean of agriculture and professor of human nutrition at Iowa State University before assuming the position.
Adding to the controversy surrounding Clovis’ qualifications for the position, the Washington Post reported on Monday that Clovis was the campaign supervisor for George Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his communication with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. Clovis reportedly praised Papadopoulos’ attempts to set up a meeting between the campaign and Russian nationals, telling him “great work” in March of 2016 and encouraging him to make a trip to Russia “if it is feasible” in August of that year.
“Beyond his connections to the Russia probe, Clovis is an unqualified, anti-science, climate-denying talk show host with no credible science or agriculture background,” Friends of the Earth food and technology program director Lisa Archer said in a statement on Thursday. “Clovis is not a scientist and has no background in agriculture, yet would be in charge of a $3 billion budget and critical decisions that will shape America’s agricultural future. Congress must reject Clovis.”
Clovis’ nomination hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee is reportedly scheduled for November 9, though that date has not been officially announced. According to CNN, a White House source said that Clovis’ nomination could be pulled because of his relation to the Russia investigation. The fact that Clovis has no science background, on the other hand, has not been a point of issue for the Trump administration — when Clovis was officially nominated in July, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue called Clovis “a trusted advisor and steady hand” who “looks at every problem with a critical eye, relying on sound science and data.”