RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
Fetus, Transgender, science-based - these are just three of the seven words and phrases the Trump administration has reportedly banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using in any official documents for next year's budget. That's according to reporting from The Washington Post. We called one of the reporters at The Post who wrote the story, Lena Sun. Thanks for joining us.
LENA SUN: You're welcome.
SUAREZ: Now, to be clear, this isn't a blanket ban. The prohibition only refers to words used in budget documents, which any administration has discretion over. But why would the administration want to be so specific about what words to avoid in budget proposals from the CDC?
SUN: That is a very good question. And we have been trying to get the answer to that. As you know, we are now in the budget process where federal agencies are drafting their narratives and sending them higher up the chain. And then, ultimately, the president's budget is presented to Congress in early February. And that process is overseen by the Office of Management and Budget. It is - and then, you know, instructions flow down from there to the agencies.
The CDC is part of HHS. And as part of the budget process - the normal budget process, these budget analysts were told last week, well, as you're drafting stuff, these - here are the words you should be avoiding. And the three words that we're getting bounced back in written drafts were - entitlement, diversity and vulnerable. And then in addition, the CDC budget official told the participants there are additional words that were going to be conveyed verbally, and those were - fetus, transgender, evidence-based and science-based.
In some instances, the CDC official gave an alternative for some words. For example, instead of saying evidence-based or science-based, there was sort of this clunky longer phrase saying the CDC relies on science, bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes, which is kind of long. In other cases, there were no replacement words that were immediately offered.
SUAREZ: Have you gotten any reaction from people at the CDC who, in budget proposals, will have to account for, let's say - I don't know - funding for Zika research without using the word fetus or discuss unvaccinated communities without calling them vulnerable?
SUN: No, I haven't. But the person who told me this indicated that this information was being provided to the small group of folks who draw up the budget documents. They're called budget narratives, which describe what an agency's mission is, you know, what it does and what its vision is for the future.
The broader pool of scientists and researchers don't take part in that. So - but I think by now, because the story has gotten quite a bit of traction, people are aware. We have received tons of emails from outraged scientists and researchers and advocacy groups about the use of - or, you know, why these words should not be used.
SUAREZ: We have only a short time left. Have you been able to figure out whether, in previous administrations, words have been prohibited from CDC or any other budgets?
SUN: My understanding from the reporting so far is that words that might have an ideological bent or be controversial, like fetus or transgender - this kind of restriction on language has not happened before, at least at the CDC.
SUAREZ: That's Lena Sun. She's a national reporter at The Washington Post. Thanks a lot, Lena.
SUN: You're welcome.
SUAREZ: And NPR reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC for a statement. HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd responded with a quote - "this assertion that we've banned words is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process."
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