On November 28th, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. Scott Hutchins as U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), which also serves as USDA Chief Scientist. Hutchins, the former global leader of Corteva AgriScience, is an entomologist by training and was the former President of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. There is no scheduled vote on his nomination at this time.
Both Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) emphasized the importance of agricultural research in their respective opening statements, as did Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. Overall the hearing was not contentious, although committee members questioned Dr. Hutchins on several hot-button issues including climate change and the proposed relocation of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) outside of the DC area.
Although he has not yet been briefed on the NIFA/ERS relocation, Hutchins “assumed” logistical concerns with respect to core functions, personnel, and collaboration with other agencies have been addressed. He stressed that “details matter” for major organizational changes, and if confirmed, he would utilize his professional experiences with mergers to ensure that the science, independent assessments, and collaborative efforts with other federal research agencies are not disrupted by the relocation. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) pushed Dr. Hutchins on whether humans are driving climate change and if he would support the findings of the National Climate Assessment, despite President Trump’s recent critique. Hutchins affirmed his support for the report, remarking that agricultural science can provide solutions to carbon sequestration and innovation to help farmers and ranchers adapt to climate change. Additionally, he discussed the public and private sector as having overlaps, but also independent roles in the larger research enterprise. Finally, Hutchins commented on the land-grant mission as “timeless” and committed to learning more about the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities across the country, as some have been proposed for elimination by the Trump Administration in the fiscal year (FY) 2018 and 2019 budget requests.
The archived webcast and witness testimony is available at https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-of-mindy-brashears-naomi-earp-and-scott-hutchins.