Experts alarmed by reported word ban at CDC

Posted December 21, 2017

"The CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution, providing for the common defense of the country against health threats".

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. "We haven't received, nor implemented, any directives with respect to the language used at FDA to describe our policy or budget issues", said a spokesperson. She spoke on condition of anonymity, according to the Associated Press. Their work is rooted in evidence-based and science-based approaches that are foundational to society's advancement. That the agency could be censoring certain language sparked alarm and anger from some science and public health experts.

"We write regarding concerning reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and potentially the Department of Health and Human Services, are discouraging the use of specific words or phrases in official FY19 budget documents", the senators wrote.

Science tallied the usage of these words in CDC's budget requests to Congress-formally known as Justification of Estimates for Appropriation Committees-for the past 4 years, including the last three submitted by Obama.

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 unsafe and misleading. They're saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. They have also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for records, including communications with the CDC, relating to the banned words from November 2016 onward. Diversity took a dive in 2018, to two mentions, compared with 10 in Obama's last budget; the only remaining references were to CDC's Office of Women's Health and the Diversity Management Program and geographic diversity.

Another HHS official who was not present for the conversation gave a different account of the CDC meeting. "HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions", the statement continued.

"Everybody in the public health community recognizes that there is a slowly growing timidity by colleagues whose budgets are dependent on the federal government".

A report in the NYT suggests the budget discussion, from which the WaPo report came, suggesting side-stepping certain words in order to secure budget funding from Congressional Republicans. 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.

"What is clearly happening is those people are afraid to use those words in any talks or papers". She told the group there were other words too, but officials are avoiding writing them down, the analyst recalled her telling the group.