Trump Pick for USDA Science Post Has No Formal Scientific Background

By Renee Hickman

Sam Clovis, a former economics professor, talk radio host and campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, will be nominated for the Agriculture Department’s top science job despite having no formal scientific background as directed by law.

The White House announced that Clovis, who has a doctorate in public administration, will be its pick for the USDA under secretary of research, education and economics.

The U.S. code states that nominees for the position shall be selected “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”

Clovis has publicly stated that he is “extremely skeptical” about the science of climate change, and his nomination has prompted outcry from groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a July 19 statement that Clovis “looks at every problem with a critical eye, relying on sound science and data, and will be the facilitator and integrator we need.”

New Trade Post Pick

The USDA also announced Ted McKinney will be nominated for under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. McKinney is the director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. He was appointed to that post by then-Gov. Mike Pence. Prior to that, McKinney was the director of global corporate affairs for Elanco Animal Health, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly & Co.

Perdue in May created the post of under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs to be the USDA’s chief promoter of U.S. agriculture exports. This fulfills a direction by Congress in the 2014 farm bill.

In the new role, McKinney would likely have a major influence in the planned renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In May, Perdue said the post would be part of a trade “triumvirate” providing expertise on agriculture to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Senate confirmation is required for Clovis and McKinney after they are formally nominated.

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at

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