In response to outrage at what some see as at attempt to muzzle federal agencies or censor their language, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not been barred from using certain words in the agency's budget documents.
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The seven words or phrases include "science-based," "fetus," "transgender" and "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," and "evidence-based," The New York Times reported.
A Washington Post story published Friday said that senior officials who oversee the CDC's budget outlined the forbidden words and phrases to CDC policy analysts at a meeting on Thursday.
Alternatives were suggested. For example, instead of "science-based," or "evidence-based," the Post reported that "the suggested phrase is 'C.D.C. bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.'"
The story set off a storm of criticism from advocacy groups and some Democratic officials.
This is an unprecedented move, a former federal official, who did not want to be named, told The Times.
"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," the 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."
"The assertion that HHS has 'banned words' is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process," agency spokesman Matt Lloyd said in an email to The Times.
"HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions," Lloyd said.
Some experts said that using certain language in the CDC budget proposals might make sense when seeking funding from Republican conservatives in Congress, The Times reported.
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