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Vilsack: Trump’s Pick For USDA Top Science Post Lacks Credibility

Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the comments following a speech at Colorado State University.
Courtesy Colorado State University
Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the comments following a speech at Colorado State University.

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is questioning the qualifications of President Trump’s pick to lead the research division at the USDA, a post generally held in the past by a trained scientist.

In July, Trump nominated former conservative talk radio host and economics professor Sam Clovis to be the agency’s undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics.

Clovis’ nomination brought with it a wave of criticism zeroing in on his lack of high-level scientific education and research experience, and for racially charged comments he made while hosting his radio show. He has questioned manmade climate change and the fact that President Obama was born in the U.S.

Vilsack, who served as USDA Secretary during both of Obama’s terms, and now is the CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, says Clovis’s views could impede his ability to do the job.

“Mr. Clovis’s positions on things like climate change and things of that sort create a barrier for him that will make it hard for him to have the credibility, the connection with land grant universities, the connection with the science community,” Vilsack says.

Clovis’s background as an academic, Vilsack says, could help in other aspects of the position. Clovis taught business and economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and holds a doctorate degree in public administration.

“But I’m just not sure about his science background,” Vilsack says. “I don’t think he has a science background, and I think that job is designed for a scientist.”

Two dozen farm groups have signaled their support for Clovis’s nomination. The Senate has yet to hold a confirmation hearing.

A handful of senators, including the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, have said Clovis is not qualified to hold the position. 

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As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.