The Office of Consumer Affairs
April 1998 Report
DOC Consumer-Related Activities
The following agencies are included in this report:
BUREAU OF THE CENSUS
Federal Government Disburses More Than $1 Trillion in Fiscal Year 1997:
-- The Federal Government distributed $1.4 trillion in domestic grants, benefits subsidies, salaries, and goods and services purchased in fiscal year 1997.
-- California received the most Federal funds of any state, followed by New York and Texas.
-- New York City and Los Angeles County each received more Federal money than did 42 states. But in terms of per capita Federal funds received, New York City ranked 522 and Los Angeles County ranked 1,320 among 3,137 counties.
-- Federal Government payroll expenditures totaled $166 billion in 1997, a 2.1 percent increase from 1996. Federal defense spending, which includes payroll, defense contracts and grants as well as military pensions, totaled $218 billion in 1997, a 6 percent decrease from 1996.
For questions about the data, contact Gerald Keffer (301-457-1522). For more information, see Federal Expenditures by State for Fiscal Year 1997, FES/97 and Consolidated Federal Funds Report, Fiscal Year 1997, County Areas, CFFR/97. The Internet address is: http://www.census.gov/govs/www/cffr97.html.
Foreign-Born Population Reaches 25.8 Million:
-- In 1997, nearly 1 in 10 residents of the United States was foreign-born and almost 1 in 3 of these foreign-born residents was a naturalized citizen.
-- Five states had a larger percentage of foreign-born population that the percentage for the United States as a whole (9.7 percent): California (24.9 percent); New York (19.6 percent); Florida (16.4 percent); New Jersey (15.4 percent), and Texas (11.3 percent).
-- One out of every 2 foreign-born residents was a native of Central America, South America, or the Caribbean. One in 4 was born in Asia and about 1 in 5 originated in Europe.
For questions about the data, contact Dianne Schmidley (301-457-2403). For more information see, The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: March 1997 (Update). The Internet address is http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/foreign.html.
Number of Older Women Will More Than Double Worldwide in the Next Quarter Century:
-- The number of women aged 60 and over is expected to more than double between now and 2025--to 645 million.
-- In at least 75 developing countries, the projected increase in the number of older women between 1997 and 2025 exceeds 150 percent, while in many developed countries the increase is less than 50 percent.
-- Literacy rates for older women run from less than 5 percent in Algeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nepal, and Sudan to more than 90 percent in Argentina, Italy and the United States.
For questions about the data, contact Yvonne Gist or Victoria Velkoff (301-457-1371). For more information see, Gender and Aging: Demographic Dimensions, IB/97-3. The Internet address is: http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/publist.html.
ECONOMICS AND STATISTICS ADMINISTRATION
Selected Consumer-Related Information
Consumer prices rose 0.2 percent in April following no change in March and a slight 0.1 percent gain in February. Over the last 12 months consumer prices are up only 1.4 percent. The core rate of inflation (prices excluding food and energy) increased 0.3 percent in March and 2.1 percent for the past 12 months. Over the same period energy prices dropped 7.4 percent and food prices were up only 2.1 percent.
Income after taxes increased 0.4 percent in March, the smallest gain since December.
Consumer spending was up 0.5 percent in March following a 0.3 percent gain in February and a 0.7 percent rise in January. In March, spending was concentrated in outlays for nondurable goods and services as durable goods outlays declined.
Automobile sales increased 2.5 percent in April following no change the two prior months. Light truck sales increased 4.2 percent following a 2.9 percent gain in March.
Housing starts declined for the second consecutive month in April but remained at relatively high levels. All of the April decline was in the volatile multi-family category.
Mortgage commitment interest rates continued near the 7 percent level.
Black Enterprise Magazine: Director was interviewed by the consumer affairs editor of Black Enterprise Magazine for an article on consumer racism scheduled for the July issue. The interview came about as a result of the Director's participation in a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights briefing on consumer racism and sexism.
Washington State 1998 National LifeSmarts Winner: In the national competition, April 25-28, 1998 in Phoenix, Arizona, 28 state champion teams competed for the national LifeSmarts title. The Director of Consumer Affairs served as a judge for the national finals. LifeSmarts: The Ultimate Consumer Challenge is an educational game show competition which teaches high school students about consumer and marketplace issues. Questions covered five areas--personal finance, health and safety, environment, technology, and consumer rights & responsibilities.
Mexican Consumer Protection: Director and staff met with Miguel Angel Sanchez Hinojosa, Director of Consumer Protection, Mexico and Bryan Elwood-Salido, First Secretary, Embassy of Mexico Trade Office to share information about consumer protection in the United States and Mexico. Director Johnson provided the visitors with OCA's publications and new web-site information.
Constituent Contacts: During April 1998, OCA responded to 174 requests from constituents.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE ADMINISTRATION
The Importance of Service Industries: Service industries have become the engine of growth for the American economy, fundamental to the health and prosperity of almost every business, large or small, whether in one community or across the state. Just as services firms have found a vibrant market here in the United States, these businesses now have come to rely on the knowledge and leading technologies used by U.S. service firms. U.S. services companies market their own expertise to enhance their customer's competitiveness in the global economy.
Underlining the importance of service industries, the ITA has dedicated the entire April 1998 issue of Business America to this dynamic sector. Among the many articles in this issue are "Global Markets for U.S. Service Exports," "Tourism's Role in a Changing Economy," "U.S.-Services Trade Data," "Services Export Financing," and "Services in the World Trade Organization."
The April issue of Business America also contains an announcement of a conference that the ITA Office of Service Industries is organizing with the Coalition of Service Industries. It is entitled "Services 2000: A Conference and Dialogue on Global Policy Development and U.S. Business" and it will take place on October 1, 1998 at the U.S. Department of Commerce auditorium.
NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
National Hurricane Center Director Named: Jerry D. Jarrell became the sixth director of the National Weather Service's Tropical National Hurricane Center in Miami on April 23. Mr. Jarrell had been acting director of the Center since September 1997. He joined the Hurricane Center as deputy director in 1988. As a major component of NOAA, the Center issues watches and warnings of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern Pacific.
Red Snapper Recreational Bag Limit Reduced: The recreational bag limit for red snapper caught in Federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico was decreased from five per person daily to four per person daily effective April 29, 1998.
Coho Salmon: The National Marine Fisheries Service asked a Federal court in Medford, Oregon, to stop the Grants Pass Irrigation District from diverting water at Savage Rapids Dam on southern Oregon's Rogue River until it complies with the Endangered Species Act. Coho salmon in southern Oregon and northern California have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since June 1997.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY
NIST Helps Wring Water Out of Walls Before They're Built: Wet walls can be a homeowner's nightmare. However, MOIST 3.0, a personal computer program from the NIST, can help avoid such problems even before the home has left its blueprints. Builders can use MOIST 3.0 to assess potential moisture accumulation in different types of construction and ceiling materials at various time of the year. The program, an improvement over a previous DOS-based version, features graphics that allow users to construct virtual building assemblies and quickly assess the resulting thermal and moisture performance. It also contains an extensive heat and moisture property database for building materials and hourly weather data for 51 cities within the United States and Canada.
Builders can use MOIST to determine if vapor retarders are needed in cold climates. The program can predict surface relative humidity at the construction layers in hot and humid climates, thereby revealing the potential for mold and mildew growth. It also will help builders determine the drying rates for materials containing original construction moisture. A free copy of MOIST 3.0 can be obtained by downloading the program from http://www.bfrl.nist.gov/863/moist.html or e-mailing a request to email@example.com.
New NIST Video Shows Hot Research on Cold Atoms: Almost Absolute Zero: The Story of Laser Cooling and Trapping of Atoms comes alive in an exciting video lecture by William D. Phillips, a leading researcher in ultra-low temperature in atomic physics at the NIST. Phillips shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Steven Chu of Stanford University and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Collège de France and École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France.
Phillips presented his well-illustrated lecture to more than 1,000 people at NIST who braved a snowstorm on January 24, 1998, to hear him speak. In this lecture, Phillips describes the work the trio did independently on the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. In the video, Phillips covers many of the milestones that enabled scientists to cool atoms to within a few nanokelvins of absolute zero.
This 73-minute video lecture is an excellent resource for high school and college physics courses and is available free of charge from NIST. Send a fax to (301) 926-1630 to reserve your copy.
Builders Now Have BEES to Buzz About: Environmentally sensitive and cash-conscious BEES are ready to help designers and architects plan better buildings. BEES, an acronym for "Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability," is a software package developed by NIST's Green Buildings Program to identify building products that improve environmental performance with little or no increase in cost. The first version, BEES 1.0, is now available.
BEES 1.0 is based on consensus standards and designed to be practical, flexible, consistent, and transparent. The Windows™-based decision support software includes actual environmental and economic performance data for 24 building products. BEES was developed with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program. The EPP encourages Federal agencies to reduce the environmental burdens associated with products and services that they buy, including building products. Refinement and expansion of the software will be done over the next three years under sponsorship of the NIST Green Buildings Program and the EPA's EPP program.
BEES runs on a Windows 95™ personal computer with a 486 or higher microprocessor, 32 megabytes or more of RAM, at least 10 megabytes of available disk space and a 3.5-inch floppy diskette drive.
NIST Helps Slice Year 2000 Problems Down to Size: If you're looking for a handful of needles in a haystack it can really help to know where not to look. That's the basic idea behind a set of algorithms developed at the NIST that have recently been incorporated into a commercial software product made by Blair and Associates Inc. of Hanover, Maryland. The new product, called the BAI Slicer, is designed to help computer programmers find "Year 2000" problems in programs written in the C language.
Programs written in C--like those for controlling an automatic teller machine or a piece of manufacturing equipment--can contain tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of lines of computer instructions. The NIST algorithm can be used to figure out which of these many lines of instructions are not related directly or indirectly to a specific function like the current date. In practice, this allows programmers to safely ignore up to 90 percent of a computer program and concentrate on the 10 percent that may contain commands that need changing to conform to four-digit year dates after the year 2000.
NATIONAL TECHNICAL INFORMATION SERVICE
FedWorld®: The Internal Revenue Service web site, operated and maintained by NTIS' FedWorld, received 364 million visits from the public seeking tax forms and information this tax season. From April 13-15 alone, the total web hits were 42 million. Last tax filing season, the same peak three days sustained 11 million hits or visits. Compared to last year, the system served more than three times as many web visitors.
PC World magazine published its "3rd Annual Best Free Stuff Online" in their April 1998 issue and named FedWorld as one of the best Government sites.
Toll-Free Numbers for NTIS Access: Consumers can now contact NTIS using the following toll-free numbers:
Sales 1-800-553-NTIS (6847)
Customer Service 1-888-584-8332
Products of High Interest: (Unless otherwise indicated, call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to order these products.)
The Emerging Digital Economy (PB98-137029NEN, with appendices, $56 plus handling; PB98-137011NEN, without appendices, $29.50 plus handling)--This study, released by the U.S. Department of Commerce on April 15, finds that electronic commerce is responsible for economic growth, high-wage jobs, and lower inflation. Without information technology, overall inflation would have been more than a full percentage point higher than the 2.0 percent it was in 1997. As the first report in an ongoing Administration effort to measure the impact of electronic commerce on the economy, The Emerging Digital Economy reviews the growing use of electronic commerce by businesses and consumers. Secretary Daley stated: "Increasingly, electronic commerce is putting the 'e' in economic opportunity. Our report indicates companies are investing in these technologies to boost productivity and efficiency. In fact, investments in information technology today account for more than 45 percent of all business equipment investment." Also, over the next ten years, there is an expected need for an additional 1.3 million information technology workers. Secretary Daley called on industry to rapidly establish a self-regulated effort that includes consumer representation and pointed out that: "For electronic transactions to become standard, consumers need to feel a certain level of privacy."
American Finance for the 21st Century (PB98-113327NEN, $41 plus handling)--In response to a U.S. Congressional directive, the Secretary of the Treasury has released a report on the strengths and weaknesses of the American financial services system. This report is designed to aid Congress in crafting legislation which will benefit consumers of financial services from now to well into the 21st century. It will also be of assistance to electronic commerce buyers, sellers, and investors; Federal policymakers; and financial managers and regulators.
U.S. Navy Newly Released Video Series--Just in time for Memorial Day celebrations and as a permanent resource for American history buffs and educators, the U.S. Navy has released a series of 14 videos covering naval history from the Revolutionary War to the present. Each video will stand on its own, so they are useful for teaching naval history of a specific period, or the entire series can be used for teaching a full course on U.S. naval history. Among the videos in the collection are: History of the Navy - War of Independence - 1775-1783; History of the Navy - The Naval Wars with France and Tripoli; The Story of Naval Aviation; and Sea Power from Plymouth Rock to Polaris.