The Office of Consumer Affairs
May-June 1999 Report
DOC Consumer-Related Activities
The following agencies are included in this report:
- Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)--page 5
- International Trade Administration (ITA)--page 7
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)--page 7
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)--page 9
- National Technical Information Service (NTIS)-page 9
BUREAU OF THE CENSUS
- Wholesale Sales of Petroleum and Petroleum Products Near $800 Million in Wyoming in 1997, Census Bureau
Reports: Wyoming's 83 petroleum and petroleum products wholesalers recorded sales of $799 million in 1997,
thirty-one percent of the state's wholesale sales for all industries of $2.5 billion, according to the first in a series of
state reports from the 1997 Economic Census on Wholesale Trade. The petroleum and petroleum-product industry's
498 employees comprised less than 1 in 10 of the state's 5,761 wholesale-trade workers. Its 83 locations accounted
for 10 percent of the state's 800 wholesale-trade establishments.
Source: 1997 Economic Census, Geographic Area Series, Wholesale Trade: Wyoming. Internet address:
- First 1997 Economic Census Retail Report Shows Wyoming With Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Retail
Sales Hitting $102 Million: Wyoming's 29 electronic shopping and mail-order establishments sold $102 million in
merchandise in 1997 -- about 2 percent of the state's total of $4.5 billion in retail sales, according to the first in a
series of state reports on retail sales from the 1997 Economic Census. The bulk of sales by Wyoming's electronic
shopping and mail-order firms were in the Cheyenne metropolitan area, with a total of $84.8 million. Statewide,
electronic shopping and mail-order firms employed 554 people.
Source: 1997 Economic Census, Geographic Area Series, Retail Trade: Wyoming. Internet address:
- Hotel and Motel Sales Top $300 Million in Wyoming in 1997: Wyoming's 371 hotels and motels recorded sales
of $306 million in 1997, more than a third of the $809 million in sales for all industries in the state's accommodation
and food services sector. More than a third of the sales by Wyoming's hotels and motels took place in Teton County,
with a total of $105 million. Nearly half of Teton County's hotel and motel sales ($48 million) occurred in Jackson.
Statewide, the hotel and motel industry employed 7,198 people.
Source: 1997 Economic Census, Geographic Area Series, Accommodation and Food Services: Wyoming. Internet
- Census Bureau and University of California Open Research Laboratory at UCLA: The Center for Economic
Studies at the Census Bureau, in partnership with the University of California, opened a Research Data Center (RDC)
laboratory at the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). RDCs offer qualified researchers
restricted access to unpublished economic and demographic data collected by the Census Bureau in its surveys and
Source: Arnold Reznek/Janet Shapiro, 301-457-1856/301-457-1839. Internet address:
- Economic Census Shows California Leads Nation in Plastics Bottle Production: California, Illinois, and Ohio
accounted for a third of the $6.4 billion worth of goods shipped by the nation's plastics bottle manufacturers in 1997.
California's manufacturers led all states by shipping $769.1 million worth of bottles made from various types of
plastics. Illinois ($702.4 million) was second, followed by Ohio ($686.1 million). The report shows data for an
additional 26 states.
Source: 1997 Economic Census, Manufacturing Industry Series: Plastics Bottle Manufacturing. Internet address:
- Goodwill Teams with Census Bureau to Boost Census 2000: The Census Bureau and Goodwill Industries
International announced a partnership agreement that will see the nationwide non-profit organization undertake a
wide-ranging program in support of Census 2000. Activities include displaying promotional materials about Census
2000 in Goodwill's facilities and 1,700 retail stores across the nation and producing a joint television Public Service
Source: Barbara Harris, 301-457-1305. Internet address:
- Census Bureau Facts for Features: The Fourth of July: Previously released information from the Census Bureau
to commemorate Independence Day shows that China is the major source of our nation's fireworks supply,
contributing a total of nearly $102 million worth in 1998, and that there are 27 incorporated places nationwide named
"Liberty." Internet address: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/factsheets.html.
- New Economic Census Construction Report Shows More Than 164,000 Employed in Masonry and Stone
Contractors Industry: California, Pennsylvania and Texas accounted for nearly one-fifth of the estimated 164,236
people employed nationwide in the masonry and stone contractors industry, according to the first in a series of
reports from the 1997 Economic Census on construction industries. Internet address:
- Census Bureau Launches American FactFinder on Redesigned Internet Site: The Census Bureau announced
today that the first edition of its data access system, American FactFinder, is now operational and available to users
on its award-winning Internet site at http://factfinder.census.gov. Several data products are being made available on
the system, which will eventually be used to disseminate the data from Census 2000. Internet address:
- State-of-the-Art Data Capture Center for Census 2000: In Essex, Maryland, the Commerce Department's Census
Bureau and its private-sector partners today inaugurated the first of four data capture centers, which altogether will
process more than 120 million Census 2000 questionnaires next year. The center is located in Baltimore County just
outside the city of Baltimore. Internet address: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/1999/cb99-cn26.html.
- Four of Every Five Centenarians in the U.S. Are Women: Four of every five people in the United States age 100
or more are women, according to a new report entitled Centenarians in the United States. The report contains data
for centenarians on educational attainment, poverty status, disability status, living arrangements, and country of birth.
Internet address: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/1999/cb99-63.html.
- Nation's Median Age Highest Ever; West Virginia Oldest State, Census Bureau Reports : The median age of
the U.S. population was 35.2 years in 1998, the highest ever recorded, West Virginia's population continued to be
the nation's oldest with a median age of 38.6 years, while Utah remained the state with the lowest median age at 26.7
years. Internet address: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/1999/cb99-113.html.
- School Construction Expenditures Top $18 Billion; Texas, New York and Florida Spend the Most, Census
Bureau Reports: Nationwide, school districts invested $18.7 billion in school construction in 1996, with Texas,
New York and Florida spending the most among the states, according to data released on the Internet by the Census
Bureau. Texas spent $2 billion for school construction, followed by New York and Florida at $1.6 billion each.
California, at $1.2 billion, and Pennsylvania, at $1 billion, were next. Internet address:
- Census Bureau "Facts for Features": Father's Day (June 20): The Census Bureau released statistical information
from its demographic and economic subject areas pertaining to Father's Day. Similar Facts for Features
commemorate other events and holidays throughout the year. Internet address: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/factsheets.html.
- Census Bureau Issues First State Report, Covering Wyoming, on Real Estate, Rental and Leasing Industries
from the 1997 Economic Census: The first in a series of state reports on the Real Estate and Rental and Leasing
sector of the economy from the 1997 Economic Census showed that the largest revenue-producing industry in this
sector of Wyoming's economy was offices of real estate agents and brokers at $58.6 million. This industry accounted
for about one-quarter of the revenues in the sector. Internet address:
- Census Bureau and Corporation for National Service Announced Census 2000 Outreach Partnership: Census
Bureau Director Kenneth Prat and Corporation for National Service Chief Executive Harris Wofford announced a
new Census 2000 partnership at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace. The Census Bureau welcomed the Corporation for
National Service to a growing list of state, local and tribal governments, businesses and other organizations that have
formed partnerships with the agency to promote Census 2000. Internet address:
- Census Bureau Issues First State Report, Covering Wyoming, on Arts, Entertainment and Recreation
Industries from the 1997 Economic Census: The first in a series of state reports on the Arts, Entertainment and
Recreation sector of the economy from the 1997 Economic Census showed that amusement, gambling and recreation
industries accounted for the bulk of receipts for taxable firms in this sector of Wyoming's economy ($74.5 million
out of $93.3 million). These industries include, among others, amusement parks and arcades, lottery ticket sales
agents (except retail stores) and skiing facilities. Internet address:
- Census Bureau Issues First State Report, Covering Wyoming, on Health Care, Social Assistance Industries
from 1997 Economic Census: The first in a series of state reports on the Health Care and Social Assistance sector
of the economy from the 1997 Economic Census showed that Wyoming's 355 physicians' offices generated receipts
of $217.4 million. These offices accounted for more than 40 percent of the $493.6 million in receipts for taxable
firms in this sector of the state's economy. Internet address:
- Population Growth Rate Remains Stable, Census Bureau Reports: The United States resident population
increased by 2.6 million people, although its rate of growth was less than 1 percent, between July 1, 1997, and July
1, 1998. The population rose from 267.7 million to 270.3 million people. The growth rate, meanwhile, is consistent
with annual growth rates since 1972, which have stayed between 0.9 percent and 1.1 percent. Internet address:
ECONOMICS AND STATISTICS ADMINISTRATION
Selected Consumer-Related Information
- Consumer prices were unchanged in May, following an unexpectedly large gain in April. Still, so far this year the
core rate of inflation (prices excluding food and energy) is up at only a 1.8 percent annual rate, below the 2.3
percent average rate of increase during the two prior years.
- Income after taxes (also referred to as disposable personal income) increased 0.3 percent in May following
average gains of 0.5 percent in the four prior months.
- Consumer spending posted a strong, broad-based 0.6 percent gain in May, equal to its average gain during the first
four months of 1999.
- Automobile sales declined 2.2 percent in June following a 3.5 percent rise in May. Light truck sales were
unchanged in June following a 9.2 percent jump in May. Sales of automobiles and light trucks so far in 1999 remain
well above levels recorded in the last 20 years.
- Housing starts rebounded 6.3 percent in May following a 9.7 percent drop in April.
- Mortgage commitment interest rates increased to more than 7.5 percent in early June, their highest level since Fall
1997. Mortgage rates fluctuated between 6.5 and 7.2 percent last year.
OFFICE OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS (OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY)
- OCA Interns: OCA welcomed two summer interns, Helina Crowder from Virginia Tech University and Andrew
Hao from Moorestown, New Jersey, High School. The interns will assist with consumer correspondence and
research for consumer bulletins.
- "Consumers & the Emerging, Technology-Based Marketplace" Conference: The Director participated in this
conference sponsored by the Direct Selling Education Foundation, May 13-15. Presenters from Australia, Canada,
Poland, Spain, Russia, and the United States were featured. The global showcase of consumer education and
consumer protection programs focused on consumer issues arising in the emerging, technology-based marketplace.
The Director arranged for and introduced Friday's luncheon speaker, Don Wynegar, Director, Y2K Outreach, DOC,
whose topic was "Y2K: The Challenges We Cannot Ignore."
- National Consumers League's (NCL) 100th Anniversary: Director and staff attended the 100th anniversary
celebration of NCL, which was held May 16-19. The Centennial Consumer Summit focused on "Consumer
Challenges in a Changing World." Speakers included senior Administration officials; Nay Htun, United Nations
(UN) Assistant Secretary General and Regional Director, UN Development Programme; and numerous consumer
advocates from around the world.
- Underwriters Laboratories' (UL) Consumer Affairs Committee: Staff attended the 1999 Annual meeting of UL,
Delivering Tomorrow's Solutions Today, May 3-5, to participate in the Consumer Advisory Council (CAC). UL is
placing greater emphasis on serving its customers worldwide as well as consumers, and has recently established a
Board Committee on Consumer Affairs, which is chaired by Barbara Gregg, former Director of Consumer Affairs,
Montgomery County, MD, and a member of the UL Board of Directors. The 16th CAC meeting consisted of
presentations by UL staff concerning current work on consumer standards and several roundtables to increase
member's participation and input.
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Workshop on International Consumer Protection: Director and staff attended
the FTC's workshop that explored issues confronted by consumers when they buy goods or services on-line,
especially concerning foreign businesses. Issues discussed included what laws apply to direct, international business-to-consumer transactions; mechanisms to hear consumer disputes, and governmental authority to protect consumers.
- Annual Conference of the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA): Director and
staff attended the annual conference of NACAA, held in Tucson, Arizona, June 7-10. The conference, "Consumer
Protection Challenges: Today and into the 21st Century," discussed issues of current concern at the international,
national, state, and local levels including electronic commerce, the Internet and consumer protection, fraud of
seniors, and home equity scams.
- Fifth Annual Conference on Human Factors and the Web: Staff attended a one-day conference at NIST.
Speakers addressed techniques for searching the web, designing web sites for an international audience, and universal
- Japanese Visitor: The Director welcomed Mr. Shuji Hasegawa, Deputy Director, Consumer Affairs Division,
Japanese Economic Planning Agency, to discuss electronic commerce, consumer education, and the mission of the
Department's Office of Consumer Affairs.
-- 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.
- During June, OCA's web site was visited 2,505 times.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE ADMINISTRATION
- Global Electronic Commerce: A major conference aimed at realizing the potential of global electronic commerce
took place in the auditorium of the Department of Commerce on May 25-26, 1999. It was organized by the White
House National Economic Council with assistance by the Departments of Commerce, Labor, and Treasury, the
National Science Foundation, the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Council of Economic
Advisers, and the Small Business Administration. Entitled "Understanding the Digital Economy" the conference
examined not only information services and technology but also digitally delivered services and software, the need
for new data, indicators and tools, and the necessity for developing a plan for future research.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY
- Beware Criminals! NIST Unifies Different Ballistics ID Systems: Crime-fighting might have been elementary for
Sherlock Holmes, but today's law enforcement professional depends on the speed, accuracy, and nearly unlimited
access to data provided by his or her computer. Sometimes, however, there can be too much of a good thing.
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.
- Montana, Pennsylvania Centers Help Retiree Find Gold in Grit: A handy new cleaning device for hot tubs is
keeping people across the United States in hot water, thanks to the assistance of two affiliates of NIST's
Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).
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.
- NIST Helps Keep New Safety Measure on Road to Reality: You're driving down a dimly lit, winding country
road when fatigue sets in. Suddenly, an alarm breaks the silence, warning that your wheels have crossed a lane
stripe. You pull the car back onto the road and continue on your way.
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.
- Grocery List Toppers Are Gaining Popularity in Chemistry Labs: Chemists at the NIST are extending the
popularity of milk and eggs from the breakfast table to the lab bench. Egg powder and milk powder reference
standards are among several food-based reference materials created by NIST and Agriculture Canada since the early
1990s. Egg and milk powder have now been updated to help food chemists accurately measure protein,
carbohydrate, fats, calories, and individual fatty acids in foods.
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.
- Fifty-two Organizations Try for Nation's Top Award for Excellence: Fifty-two U.S. organizations, including four
large manufacturers, 11 service companies, 12 small businesses, and, for the first time, 16 education and nine health
care organizations have submitted applications for the 1999 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation's
premier award for performance excellence and quality achievement. This is the first year that not-for-profit
education and health care organizations are eligible to apply for the award.
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
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.
NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
- Seafood Inspection Program: In May the NOAA Seafood Inspection Program participated in the 80th Annual
National Restaurant Association Trade Show. Hundreds of national and international companies that supply
restaurants with everything from napkins to food, packed the huge McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.
The Seafood Inspection Program's goal in attending this trade show was to educate food handlers on the safe and
proper handling procedures for seafood products, as well as inform the public of the availability of inspected product
in their local restaurants. Information was disseminated regarding DoC training for the food service and retail
NATIONAL TECHNICAL INFORMATION SERVICE
- New Emerging Digital Economy Report: The NTIS is now accepting prepublication orders for a new report issued
by the Department of Commerce entitled The Emerging Digital Economy II (PB00-150435, $27 plus a handling fee).
This report illustrates the ways in which information technology is revolutionizing the American economy. During
the past year, electronic commerce and the information technology industries that make "e-commerce" possible have
grown at a phenomenal rate-changing the way businesses do business and the way individuals access information,
communicate, shop, and entertain themselves. The report details the extraordinary contribution that
telecommunications and information technology are making to the longest peacetime economic expansion in history.
- Other Products of High Interest (Call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to place an order.):
- Handbook of International Economic Statistics, 1998 (PB98-928003NEN, $40 plus a handling fee) This best
selling annual report by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provides basic worldwide statistics for comparing the
economic performance of major countries and regions. The data in the report is for 1970, 1980, and individual years
in the period 1990-97. The report covers such diverse topics as: world crude oil prices; rice, sugar, and coffee
production; Russia, key environmental problem areas; population; Japan's exports to Latin America; and newly
- Economic Assessment of Food Safety Regulations: The New Approach to Meat and Poultry Inspection
(ERS-AER-755NEN, $12 plus a handling fee) This is an economic analysis of new meat and poultry
inspection rules. It specifically describes procedures adopted by processors and slaughterhouses to prevent
- Food Code 1999 (Printed, spiral-bound version, PB99-115925NEN, $40; CD-ROM version, PB99-501033NEN,
$69, plus a handling fee) Hollywood may proclaim the winsome qualities of "A Bug's Life," but no one wants
"bugs," regardless of how charming, living in their food. To combat this, the Food and Drug Administration is
releasing its Food Code 1999 which reflects progress made in monitoring and preventing food-borne diseases. More
than 1 million retail food establishments apply the Food Code provisions to their operations.
- Techniques for Issuing Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Warnings with the WSR-88D Doppler Radar (PB97-147979NEN, $25.50 plus a handling fee) The devastation across the U.S. caused this spring by killer tornadoes has
brought home once again how awesome nature's forces are and how ineffective our weapons are to defend against
them. This paper reviews conventional radar warning guidelines and compiles techniques for the decision-making
process in issuing Doppler radar-based severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. The most widely used and
accepted warning techniques are included in detail.
- Promotional Material: (Call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to order this material.)
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