A group of U.S. senators and a collection of more than 300 U.S. public health groups have sent letters to top U.S. public health officials asking for clarification on a controversy over "banned words" at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Washington Post reported Thursday the letters to the Department of Health and Human Services asked that the agency lift any restrictions on the way HHS employees communicate in public documents.
"Words matter," the letter reads.
Thursday’s letters follow a report last week that budget writers at the CDC were given a list of "words to avoid" in budget requests, including "diversity," "entitlement" and "vulnerable."
At a CDC budget meeting last week, employees also were told to avoid the terms "fetus," "transgender," "evidence-based" and "science-based."
Public outcry followed swiftly. On Saturday, a spokesman for Health and Human Services, Matt Lloyd, told the Post that agency officials did create a list of words to avoid but did not ban any words outright.
In an email, Lloyd told the Post that employees "misconstrued guidelines provided during routine discussions on the annual budget process." He added, "It was clearly stated to those involved in the discussions that the science should always drive the narrative."
Representative Tom Cole, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the HHS budget, told the Post he interpreted the agency’s guidelines as "more silly than sinister," adding it was likely devised by bureaucrats who felt budget requests would be more successful if they included language choices with which the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress would agree.
Critics cite similarities with language guidances at other agencies, however, specifically at the Environmental Protection Agency, where the term "climate change" is seen as having fallen out of favor. The EPA has eliminated references to climate change on its website and prohibited its scientists from presenting scientific reports on the topic.