The Office of Consumer Affairs

May-June 1999 Report


DOC Consumer-Related Activities

The following agencies are included in this report:


Source: 1997 Economic Census, Geographic Area Series, Wholesale Trade: Wyoming. Internet address:

Source: 1997 Economic Census, Geographic Area Series, Retail Trade: Wyoming. Internet address:

Source: 1997 Economic Census, Geographic Area Series, Accommodation and Food Services: Wyoming. Internet address:

Source: Arnold Reznek/Janet Shapiro, 301-457-1856/301-457-1839. Internet address:

Source: 1997 Economic Census, Manufacturing Industry Series: Plastics Bottle Manufacturing. Internet address:

Source: Barbara Harris, 301-457-1305. Internet address:


Selected Consumer-Related Information


-- During May-June 1999, OCA responded to 943 requests from constituents: 474 complaints, 213 requests for information, and 256 requests for publications. The top areas of complaints, in rank order, concerned banking and credit, automobiles, and telecommunications.



Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) use computerized systems to compare digitized pictures of unique scratches and imperfections on fired bullets or spent cartridges to similar images in a massive computer database. Matches link bullets or cartridges to a specific gun, providing solid leads that may help identify criminals.

Unfortunately, the FBI's Drug-Fire system and the system supported by the ATF, called IBIS (for Integrated Ballistics Identification System), are not compatible. Among the problems: different lighting used to photograph forensic samples and different mathematical algorithms used to analyze the images. So, the Office of Law Enforcement Standards within NIST's Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory was called upon to bridge the gap.

To address the major obstacle separating the two systems, NIST specified how the IBIS and Drug-Fire manufacturers could include the other's photographic lighting as an option. Now, an IBIS setup can produce data that can be assessed by a Drug-Fire counterpart, and vice versa. With this accomplishment in hand, NIST is finalizing a standard to address the dual-system capability and will complete tests later this year to ensure interoperability.

The product, called the Grit-Gitter™, is a small, bulb-shaped apparatus that operates with just a squeeze of the hand. Without having to leave the comfort of the tub, a bather can vacuum sand, small pebbles, and other particles out of the water. The Grit-Gitter™ was first devised several years ago by Montanan Mike Stoner, the retired owner of a hydraulics software company.

To get the Grit-Gitter™ from the idea stage to the marketplace, Stoner turned to the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC). MMEC staff provided guidance on product design and launch, and then put Stoner in touch with another MEP affiliate, the Plastic Technology Deployment Center in Pennsylvania.

With help from the two MEP centers, and the advice and support of Stoner's local business colleagues, the first Grit-Gitter™ was ready for sale by November 1998. Feedback from retailers indicated that the device outsold competing models 10 to 1 during a seven-week test period. This encouraged Stoner to recently take the Grit-Gitter™ to two national trade shows where he received several large orders.

As futuristic as this seems, run-off-road (ROR) warning technology is just around the bend. And not a bit too soon. In 1997, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 969,000 road departure accidents, nearly 15 percent of all crashes recorded. These accidents produced 365,000 injuries and 11,385 deaths. The primary causes of ROR collisions: driver inattention, excessive speed, evasive maneuvers, and poor road surface conditions.

NHTSA's efforts to develop and introduce ROR warning technology is getting a hand from the NIST. Researchers in NIST's Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory have designed a system to quantify and measure its field performance. The system incorporates a video camera and sensors to assess a vehicle's position and movement while driving a laned road. The data is digitized, turned into a computer map of the road and used to test how well an ROR system reacts during runs along the same test route.

The milk and egg powder reference materials will help food producers meet Federal laws requiring accurate nutrition labeling. Laboratories can purchase them from the NIST Standard Reference Materials Program. The egg powder (Reference Material 8415) and milk powder (Reference Material 8435) come in glass bottles with a report listing assigned values for fat, protein, carbohydrates, calories, ash, moisture, solids, fatty acids, vitamins and elemental constituents. Since the food industry needs reference samples that are similar in chemical composition to their products. NIST soon will update nine more reference materials made from coconut oil, spinach leaves, corn starch, corn bran, oyster and mussel tissue, wheat gluten, durum wheat flour, and infant formula.

Applicants for the award must show achievements and improvements in seven categories: leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resource focus, process management, and results. During the upcoming months, each of the 52 applicants will receive a minimum of 300 hours of review by the award's mostly private-sector examiners.

Companies passing an initial screening this summer will be visited by a team of examiners in the fall to verify application information and to clarify issues and questions. Every applicant receives an extensive feedback report highlighting strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Winners of the 1999 award are expected to be announced in November by President Clinton and Commerce Secretary William Daley after the award's examiners and judges make their recommendations.



PR-1072 NTIS Global Resources-Placing the World of Business, Politics, and Technology at Your Fingertips

PR-889 CIA Maps and Publications Released to the Public