– The Department of Health and Human Services on Saturday tried to play down 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," agency spokesman Matt Lloyd said in an e-mail. "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."

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that CDC policy analysts were told of the forbidden words and phrases at a meeting Thursday with senior officials who oversee the agency's budget. Other words included "entitlement," "diversity" and "evidence-based."

The news set off an uproar among advocacy groups and some Democratic officials, who denounced any efforts to muzzle agencies.

The Times confirmed some details of the report with several officials, although a few suggested that the proposal was not so much a ban on words but recommendations to avoid some language to ease the path toward budget approval by Republicans.

A former federal official, who asked not to be named, called the move unprecedented. "It's absurd and Orwellian, it's stupid and Orwellian, but they are not saying to not use the words in reports or articles or scientific publications or anything else the CDC does," the former official said. "It's about a budget strategy to get funded."

But there seemed to be confusion around the public health agencies about whether such a ban would apply beyond ­budget documents.

New York Times