The Office of Consumer Affairs
February 1999 Report
DOC Consumer-Related Activities


The following agencies are included in this report:

  • Bureau of the Census
  • International Trade Administration
  • Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • National Technical and Information Service (NTIS)


    Racial, Ethnic Undercounts Detailed for Census 2000 Dress Rehearsal Sites: Measurements of how completely the population was counted in the three Census 2000 Dress Rehearsal sites have been released. The figures show the undercount rates by major race/origin groups in Sacramento, California.; Menominee County, Wisconsin.; and 11 counties around Columbia, S.C. (Source: David Hoffman (301-457-3691. Internet address:

    Census Bureau Releases Experimental Data File From Survey Evaluating Welfare Reform: A new survey, called the Survey of Program Dynamics, was designed to provide 10 years of data (from 1992-2001) on participation in programs such as food stamps, free or reduced-price school lunches, Supplemental Security Income and Social Security. Information collected in the survey will permit an assessment of the impact of welfare reform by examining changes in the economic circumstances of the same set of people who were first interviewed in the 1992 and 1993 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). (Source: Survey of Program Dynamics. Internet address:

    Census Bureau Reports Two-Thirds of African American Families Have Children:

    -- Nearly 6 in 10 African Americans lived in the South in 1998.

    -- Three-fourths of African Americans age 25 and older had at least a high school education, and 15 percent had completed at least a bachelor=s degree.

    -- Approximately 55 percent of all African American married-couple families had two earners in 1997, compared with 51 percent of comparable non-Hispanic White families.

    (Source: The Black Population in the United States: March 1998. Internet address:

    Census Bureau Reports California, New York, and Texas Led the Nation in State and Local Government Employment in 1997: The 1997 Census of Government=s report provides information on full- and part-time employment, gross payrolls, part-time employee hours worked and full-time-equivalent employment. Other employment categories are corrections, fire protection, air transportation, streets and highways, solid waste management and financial and central government administration. (Source: 1997 Census of Governments, State and Local Employment and Payroll: March 1997. Internet address:

    Census Bureau Examines ARust Belt=s@ Economic and Demographic Comeback: The Census Bureau issued a new study showing that many metropolitan areas located within the so-called Rust-Belt have rebounded economically and demographically from the 1980s to the 1990s.

    The Census Brief looks at statistical reversals of fortune in such categories as non-farm business establishments and unemployment, as well as serious crimes, average annual salaries and new-job generation. (Source: ARust Belt@ Rebounds, CENBR/98-7. Internet address:

    Updated Income and Poverty Estimates for States and Counties: The Census Bureau released 1995 income and poverty estimates for the nation=s states and 3,143 counties. The new figures could be used to allocate Federal funds for programs such as Head Start.

    The Internet tables show state- and county-level estimates of median household income, the total number of poor persons, poor children under 18 and poor children ages 5 to 17 related to the person maintaining the household they live in and state-level estimates only of the number of poor children under 5. (Source: 1995 Income and Poverty Estimates for States and Counties. Internet address:

    Older People as Caregivers C A Worldwide Phenomenon:

    -- In many cases, the elderly are themselves the caregivers, whether they are caring for a spouse, a sibling, a child, or a grandchild.

    -- For many older people, their spouses provide their primary care. This occurs in both developed and developing nations, for both men and women.

    -- Developed countries are currently home to the majority of those age 80 and older, or about 36 million people. By 2015, however, the balance will switch, with the majority of those 80+ residing in developing countries, projected to be about 63 million people.

    (Source: Gender and Aging: Caregiving, IB/98-3. Internet address:

    Women=s Health and Education in India Profiled in New Reports:

    -- The fertility rate in India declined to 3.4 children per woman in 1992-93, down from 4.7 in 1980. However, illiteracy remained a serious problem C more than 200 million Indian women were illiterate in 1991.

    -- More than 100,000 Indian women die each year from pregnancy-related causes. UNICEF estimated that the maternal mortality ratio in India was 453 deaths per 100,000 births in 1993. The leading factor contributing to high maternal mortality is the lack of access to health care.

    -- Census data show that in 1971, only 22 percent of women and 46 percent of men were literate. By 1991, 39 percent of women and 64 percent of men could read and write.

    (Source: Women=s Health in India (WID/98-3) and Women=s Education in India (WID/98-1). The Internet address:

    Census Bureau and University of California to Open Two New Research Centers on the West Coast: The Center for Economic Studies at the Census Bureau announced agreements with the University of California campuses at Los Angeles and Berkeley to open two new Research Data Centers (RDCs), which will form the California Census Research Data Center. This is the first RDC on the West Coast, with others located in Boston and Pittsburgh.

    The RDCs offer qualified researchers restricted access to unpublished economic and demographic data collected by the Census Bureau in its surveys and censuses.

    (Source: Arnold Reznek (301-457-1856) or Janet Shapiro (301-457-1839). Internet address:

    Census Bureau Releases School District Poverty Estimates: The 1995 poverty and population estimates for each of the nation=s approximately 15,000 school districts provide the Department of Education with updated information to use for allocating funds to the nation=s school districts for the 1999-2000 school year under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The funds help pay for education programs to aid disadvantaged children. (Source: 1995 Poverty and Population Estimates for School Districts. Internet address:



    GATS 2000 Planning Meeting: Staff members of the ITA participated in an interagency meeting to map out U.S. priorities and proposals for the upcoming round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Departments of Commerce, State, Transportation, and Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, and other agencies met to discuss U.S. proposals that will be made during GATS 2000 negotiations regarding domestic regulation of services and investment in WTO member countries. A number of agencies, particularly those with regulatory responsibility for the banking, investment, accountancy, and transportation sectors, raised concerns about the USTR draft proposal which will require considerable alteration to incorporate U.S. requirements and practices. Once revisions are made, the draft paper on domestic regulation will be given to the public for comment.



    Intern: OCA welcomed Craig Bagdon of the University of Baltimore to its staff for the spring college semester. Craig will assist with OCA activities including preparing bulletins targeted to consumers about international trade and other subjects.

    National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW): The first annual NCPW was celebrated January 31 to February 6, 1999, as a partnership among the private sector, government agencies, and advocacy groups. The theme for the week was Know the Rules, Use the Tools: Be Alert to Credit Fraud. OCA publicized the week through a Secretarial message sent to all Commerce Department employees through the e-mail system. OCA also highlighted the week on its web site at and in Commerce People.

    Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF)/OCA NAFTA Brochure: Dr. Todd F. Hughes,, Director, Vanderbilt Language Center, Vanderbilt University, received permission from DSEF to translate into French and Spanish its NAFTA brochure currently posted on the Department=s web site. This information will be used in a series of web-based lessons to inform French and Spanish language students about the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    Y2K Outreach: Director and staff met with Don Wynegar and Eva Zang of the Y2K Outreach Office to discuss opportunities to assist with outreach to consumers as well as the small and medium-business communities. OCA also met to discuss the Department=s new Y2K web site on the Department=s home page.

    Constituent Contacts: During February 1999, OCA responded to 258 requests from constituents. The top three areas of complaint concerned banking and credit, automobiles, and telecommunications.



    Hacker Attacks Increasing with Easy-to-Use Internet Programs: Internet computer hacking attacks are becoming more common as they grow easier to commit. Many hacking web sites allow people to download the information and programs they need to launch assaults on other computers. A recent analysis of attacks that were published on the Internet found that they require much less technical skill than in the past. In short, we are moving into an era of Apoint and click@ attacks. The Computer Security Division at the NIST conducted the analysis.

    For example, most of the attacks previously employed by hackers required the use of sophisticated computers running UnixJ operating systems. But 29 percent of the hundreds of attacks recently published on the Internet can be launched from the WindowsJ operating system found on many home and office computers. Additionally, attack toolkits are appearing on the Internet as well. These kits simplify the hacking process so much that even children can break into computer systems with the push of a button.

    The study also noted that browsing the World Wide Web is not as safe as it once was. Some 3 percent of the attacks published on the Internet tell how to launch an attack from a web site against someone who simply wandered onto the site.

    Charters of Freedom Slated for Move to Improved Cases: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have preserved the rights and freedoms of Americans for more than 200 years. Preserving these great documents, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, has been the nearly 50-year task of helium-filled cases created by the National Bureau of Standards, predecessor to the NIST. Now, NIST and the National Archives and Records Administration have teamed to transfer the Charters of Freedom to state-of-the-art enclosures by 2003.

    Examinations recently detected microscopic fissures in the glass plates that hold the document pages upright for viewing. Preservationists fear such cracks eventually will let in pollutants. Additionally, constant contact between the parchment and the glass may cause abrasions. Correcting these problems is currently impossible: the cases are soldered shut and cannot be opened without compromising the seal.

    Archivists will be able to open the new casesBif it=s ever necessaryBwithout damage to the seal. The documents will be mounted so that glass never touches parchment. Ultra-smooth surfaces and using atomically larger argon gas rather than helium will minimize leakage.

    New Directory Lists Federal Certification and Related Programs: A newly revised NIST directory, distributed via the Internet, lists Federal certification and related requirements for hundreds of products and services regulated or purchased by 18 Federal departments and independent agencies. An update of a 1988 edition, the new directory outlines requirements for items ranging from bottled water to building products, and from nuclear facilities to narcotic test kits and other law-enforcement equipment.

    For each Federal program, entries explain its purpose, whether requirements are mandatory or voluntary, and procedures for ensuring compliance and identifying conformance. Additional particulars include agency contact points, authorizing laws and regulations, inspection and testing requirements, sources of documentation, manufacturer or vendor obligations, and reciprocity arrangements.

    The intended audience for the directory includes industry, government agencies (Federal, state, local and foreign) and the general public.

    NIST Improves Accuracy of Radioactive Prostate Seeds: Men who opt to treat prostate cancer with implanted radioactive seeds rather than surgery or external beam radiation now can be assured that their radiation dose is traceable to a new and improved standard at the NIST. Aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.

    Radioactive prostate seeds minimize the risk of incontinence and impotence, and may be as effective as surgery or external beam radiation for men with localized prostate cancer. Rice-sized prostate seeds work by delivering radiation directly to a tumor. A doctor, guided by ultrasound imaging and taking into account the strength of the seeds, inserts them into the tumor to kill the cancer cells.

    Now, NIST is the only laboratory in the world to offer this new calibration service to radioactive prostate seed manufacturers. The new and improved NIST standard is a radiation detector that is 100 times more sensitive than the detector used to establish the old standard. Regulators require that manufacturers trace the accuracy of their prostate seeds to radiation standards at NIST.

    Genetic Bar Coding Speeds DNA Testing: Just as bar codes have helped speed up trips to the supermarket, a new technology developed with co-funding from the NIST=s Advanced Technology Program is helping scientists speed up identification of genetic variations.

    Developed by Third Wave Technologies Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin, the novel genetic screening technique provides a fast, inexpensive way to turn DNA samples into individualized bar code patterns that can be scanned quickly for specific mutations. The technique costs up to 79 percent less per sample than other methods, including automated DNA sequencing.

    DNA sequencing laboriously identifies the precise order in which four chemical bases appear in a gene fragment. In contrast, Third Wave=s CFLP (cleavage fragment length polymorphism) method used patented processing methods and enzymes to create and identify tell-tale folds in single-stranded DNA that indicate specific chemical sequences. If DNA sequencing is equivalent to reading every word of an organism=s assembly instructions, then CFLP is a speed reading method that concentrates on critical junctures to infer the rest of the book.

    CFLP generates a distinct bar code for every unique DNA sequence. Thus mutations can be detected by comparing a sample to a normal coding pattern. The method should have a broad range of applications for research, diagnosing and treating infections and hereditary diseases, and accelerating drug development.



    Federal Resource Agency Says Growing West Coast Seal, Sea Lion Populations Increasingly in Conflict with Humans, Salmon: Rapidly growing populations of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals on the West Coast can harm salmon stocks. The report to Congress also cited increasing incidents of sea lions that cannot be deterred from docks and marinas and may be a threat to public safety at such locations. The report recommends that, in cases where seals or sea lions are causing repeated, serious conflict with human activity at locations such as fishing grounds or marinas, state or Federal managers should be authorized to lethally remove identified problem marine mammals, if individual animals fail to respond to repeated attempts to deter them.




    (Unless otherwise indicated, call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to order these products.)

    U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook7 1999 (PB99-102333NEN, $69.95 plus a handling fee): This latest version of the most popular single source guide to U.S. industry offers an industry-by-industry overview of the U.S. economy, from manufacturing to high-tech to service industries. It is a Amust have@ for business professionals, investors, researchers, and students who want to know how various industries affect both the increasingly global marketplace and the U.S. economy. Rich with illustrations, the report contains more than 650 charts and graphs that depict industry trends. Of special interest is the chapter on electronic commerce and those sections on the industry-specific outlooks for international trade. The Outlook may be purchased in print at the price above, or in CD-ROM format (PB99-500373NEN, $125 plus a handling fee); or it may be purchased and downloaded by individual chapters from the NTIS web site.

    National Nutrition Month: In connection with National Nutrition month in March, NTIS has a number of reports of interest, including Study of Access to Nutritious and Affordable Food (PB98-145006NEN, $29.50 plus handling) which focuses on communities where access to such food is an issue, and its appendices (PB98-144991NEN, $29.50 plus handling) which cover such topics as food supply, low income groups, the food industry, supermarkets, food consumption, and food stamps.

    Hazardous Materials Guide for First Responders (AVA20231BB00NEN, $70 plus handling): Emergency response teams are often faced with unknown hazards when they are the first to respond to chemical spills and other emergencies. Produced by the U.S. Fire Administration, the Guide provides important information for initial response to both transportation and fixed facility incidents. It addresses specific needs for the team that responds first and provides training at the awareness or operational levels.

    PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL (Call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to order this free material.)

    PR1053 NTIS Catalog of Selected USDA Products--This catalog includes abstracts and ordering information for the products available from several U.S. Department of Agriculture economic and international agencies: Economic Research Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and World Agricultural Outlook Board.

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