CDC director denies report of ‘banned words’ in budget documents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disputed a report in the Washington Post that seven words or phrases, including “fetus,” “transgender” and “science-based,” had been banned from the agency’s budget documents, while other officials said the motivation was to avoid words that could limit chances of obtaining funding from Congress.

The initial story published on Dec. 15 said CDC policy analysts were told not to use the following terms: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” One unnamed CDC analyst said the reaction to the reported ban was “incredulous.”

“It was very much, ‘Are you serious? Are you kidding?’” the analyst said.

Two days later, CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, disputed the story, saying the agency “remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution.”

“I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC,” Fitzgerald tweeted. “We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs.”

HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd was more forceful in his denial of the report, saying in a statement was “a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process.”

The New York Times spoke to several former federal officials, who asked not to be named, who suggested this wasn’t really a ban on certain words, but rather suggestions on certain language to avoid in order to win approval for projects from the political appointments at HHS and CDC.

“It’s absurd and Orwellian, it’s stupid and Orwellian, but they are not saying to not use the words in reports or articles or scientific publications or anything else the CDC does,” a former official said. “They’re saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. It’s not about censoring what CDC can say to the American public. It’s about a budget strategy to get funded.”