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Trump Backs Clovis for USDA Chief Scientist, Says Perdue, Despite Credential Questions

Iowa college professor Sam Clovis, cochair of the Trump presidential campaign, has the full backing of the administration to lead USDA’s research wing, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, brushing aside questions if Clovis has the credentials to serve as USDA chief scientist.

“I fully support his nomination,” Perdue said in a teleconference from Springfield, Illinois, during a break in a five-state farm bill tour. “The president has confidence in his abilities. And I think he will manage the research and education mission area of the USDA in fine fashion.”

Trump nominated Clovis for undersecretary for research, a post that doubles as USDA chief scientist, last month. Three Democratic senators, including Debbie Stabenow, the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, have questioned if Clovis is qualified. By statute, the job is reserved for “distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education and economics.” Clovis has a doctorate in public administration, has published few academic papers, and is a climate change skeptic.

“Sam Clovis is an academician,” said Perdue, pointing to Clovis’ interest in economics, “which is part of agricultural success as well.” In any case, he said, at the subcabinet level of undersecretary, Clovis will be occupied by management of agency budgets, personnel, research initiative, and relations with other research institutions. “The undersecretary of REE (research, education, and economics) is not going to be doing basic or applied research. That’s not what the job calls for.”

Since inauguration day, Clovis has been Trump’s top political operative at USDA. During the campaign, he was Trump’s intermediary with farm groups. Two dozen of the leading U.S. farm groups, including the Farm Bureau, wrote the Senate Agriculture Committee in support of Clovis in late July. The second-largest farm group, the NFU, and the National Association of Wheat Growers have not taken a position. 

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