Words banned at CDC were also banned at other HHS agencies

Kristen Gonzales
December 21, 2017

Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson today expressed concerns to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney about reports that OMB told officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they should avoid using certain words and phrases in preparing Fiscal Year 2019 budget documents.

Multiple agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have reportedly been told by the Trump administration that they can not use certain phrases in official documents. "Such an agenda, especially if motivated by political factors, threatens to undermine the tremendous scientific progress at the CDC and the public's faith in government, more broadly".

The reports were followed by a statement, cited by media outlets, from HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd that called the assertion that HHS had banned words as a "complete mischaracterization" of discussions about the budget, adding that HHS would continue to use the best science available to protect the health of Americans. "As part of our commitment to provide for the common defense of the country against health threats, science is and will remain the foundation of our work". "H.H.S. also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions". "It was never intended as overall guidance for how we describe and conduct CDC's work". The terms are "vulnerable", "entitlement", "diversity", "transgender", "fetus", "evidence-based" and "science-based".

The source in the Washington Post report said budget officials recommended replacing "evidence-based" or "science-based" with the phrase "science in consideration with community norms and standards", which the three groups today called risky and misleading.

Words banned at CDC were also banned at other HHS agencies
Words banned at CDC were also banned at other HHS agencies

Yesterday, an unnamed HHS source told Stat that the CDC had not been barred from using the seven words, but rather that the meeting covered guidance or suggestions regarding certain words or phrasing that might be more likely to gain support from the current Congress.

"While HHS received 10,729 comments on its proposal", noted Politico, "the agency has only posted 80 comments - less than 1 percent of all submissions - that overwhelmingly back the administration's anti-abortion policies or attack regulations advanced by the Obama administration, such as a rule forcing health care providers that accept federal funding to provide services to transgender patients".

Another HHS official who was not present for the conversation gave a different account of the CDC meeting. "I have a deep sympathy for the predicament that they are in", Dr. Galea said. The New York Times reported that CDC officials said that instead of a "ban", it was "a budget strategy to get funded" because Republicans control Congress. The term refers to a goal of removing obstacles like poverty and racial discrimination in making sure people have an equal chance to be healthy. "Everybody's afraid to do their job right now", he said. She told the group there were other words too, but officials are avoiding writing them down, the analyst recalled her telling the group.

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