Trump Administration Reportedly Prohibiting Several Words From Use In CDC Budget Documents, By Other Agencies; HHS, CDC Officials Offer Statements; PEPFAR Guidance Document Contains Language Shift

Washington Post: CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity
“The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including ‘fetus’ and ‘transgender’ — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget. Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are ‘vulnerable,’ ‘entitlement,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘fetus,’ ‘evidence-based,’ and ‘science-based’…” (Sun/Eilperin, 12/15).

Washington Post: Words banned at multiple HHS agencies include ‘diversity’ and ‘vulnerable’
“… A second HHS agency received similar guidance to avoid using ‘entitlement,’ ‘diversity,’ and ‘vulnerable,’ according to an official who took part in a briefing earlier in the week. … While HHS staffers were directly notified about how they must change the language they use when preparing budget documents, a shift is happening in other departments as well. At the State Department, for example, employees received a guidance document on Wednesday that outlined how they should develop country operating plans under the President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for 2018. This document repeatedly uses the phrase ‘sexual risk avoidance,’ which has been defined in recent congressional funding bills as abstinence-only practices until marriage, as the primary form of sex education. Jen Kates, vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an interview Saturday that while the document does not specifically change how much money should be spent on abstinence-only programs under PEPFAR, the heavy emphasis on it could shift priorities on how money is spent overseas. ‘It’s a change, and the language in these documents does matter, because that’s what’s communicated to the teams in the field,’ Kates said, adding that it’s ‘too early to tell’ how this might translate into funding changes…” (Sun/Eilperin, 12/16).

New York Times: Uproar Over Purported Ban at CDC of Words Like ‘Fetus’
“The Department of Health and Human Services tried to play down on Saturday a report that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been barred from using seven words or phrases, including ‘science-based,’ ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ and ‘vulnerable,’ in agency budget documents. ‘The assertion that HHS has “banned words” is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process,’ an agency spokesman, Matt Lloyd, said in an email. ‘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’…” (Kaplan/McNeil, 12/16).

STAT: CDC director tells staff ‘there are no banned words,’ while not refuting report
“…Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who has led the agency since July, sent an all-hands email to the agency’s staff assuring them that the CDC is committed to its mission as a science- and evidence-based institution. She later posted it on Twitter. ‘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,’ Fitzgerald wrote. … Fitzgerald’s email to staff did not refute the Washington Post’s article reporting that CDC staff had been given a list of seven banned words by CDC budget analysts. … A Health and Human Services official who asked not to be named told STAT it was not accurate to say that CDC had been ordered not to use the seven words. Instead, he said, agency budget analysts were told that some words and phrasing might be more likely to win support for the CDC’s budget in the current Congress…” (Branswell, 12/17).

Additional reporting on this developing story is available from Al Jazeera, Associated Press, CNN, The Hill, PBS NewsHour, and TIME.

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.