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

The following agencies are included in this report:



Census 2000 Countdown Begins: Census 2000, the 22nd national census of the United States, is scheduled to take place on April 1, 2000. America=s states, cities and towns are taking part in a groundswell of grassroots events to mark the beginning of ACountdown to Census 2000.@ (Source: Public Information Office, 301-457-3691. Internet address:

Census Bureau, Los Angeles-Based Hispanic Organization Form Census 2000 Outreach and Promotion Partnership: The Census Bureau announced a partnership with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) aimed at encouraging Hispanic-origin residents to participate in Census 2000. Kickoff rallies and news conferences were scheduled in 13 cities on March 30 and at two cities on April 1. (Source: Public Information Office, 301-457-3691. Internet address:

AIDS Cuts Life Expectancy in Many African Countries, Census Bureau Notes in World Population Profile: AIDS has cut life expectancy by 26 years in Zimbabwe, 18 years in Kenya and four years in Nigeria C only a few of the countries where mortality from the disease is having a major demographic impact. According to the report, HIV/AIDS epidemics continue to spread in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Botswana and South Africa. Other severely affected countries include Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where 18 percent to 25 percent of all adults are HIV-positive. (Source: World Population Profile: 1998. Internet address:

Fastest-Growing Counties Are Southern, Western and Predominantly Metropolitan, Census Bureau Reports: The nation=s fastest-growing counties were in or near metropolitan areas of the South and West, according to 1998 population estimates for all 3,142 counties released on the Internet.

Of the nation=s 2,426 counties with at least 10,000 people in 1998, four of the top 10 fastest-growing were in Georgia, two each were in Colorado and Texas, and one each was in Nevada and Virginia. Internet tables show 1990 to 1998 population estimates and rankings for all counties. (Source: David Rain/Marc Perry, 301-457-2419. Internet address:

Census Bureau Presents Historical Data on the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: Available on the Internet, Population Working Paper No. 29 includes updated and expanded historical data on the foreign-born population from 1850 to 1990. The new report presents decennial census data on several characteristics of the foreign-born population, including country of birth, length of residence in the United States, citizenship, and age-sex distribution. (Source: Population Working Paper No. 29, 301-457-2442. Internet address:

State and Local Government Spending Reaches $1.4 Trillion; California Accounts for 13 Percent, Census Bureau Reports: Spending by the nation=s state and local governments increased to $1.4 trillion during 1995-96, while spending in California topped all states at $187 billion. Nationwide, the 1996 expenditure level reflects an increase of about 3.4 percent from the 1995 expenditure level. During this same period, expenditures for California increased by 3.1 percent.

State and local governments spend more than one-half of their money on four areas C education ($399 billion), public welfare ($193 billion), highways ($79 billion) and hospitals ($71 billion). (Source: 1996 Annual Survey of Government Finances, 301-457-1502. Internet address:

Manufacturing Jobs, Shipments Up Sharply in Northern Mariana Islands, Census Bureau Reports in Latest Economic Census: The Northern Mariana Islands saw a boom in manufacturing between 1992 and 1997, the Census Bureau reported as it issued its first 1997 Economic Census results on an outlying area.

Between 1992 and 1997, the number of paid manufacturing employees doubled (from 6,300 to 13,700), while the annual manufacturing payroll tripled (from $49 million to $147 million). Manufacturing shipments increased from $264 million to more than $762 million. (Source: 1997 Economic Census of Outlying Areas: Northern Mariana Islands C Construction Industries, Manufactures, Wholesale Trade, Retail Trade and Service Industries, 301-457-3314. Internet address:



Consumer Federation of America (CFA): CFA held its annual consumer assembly, March 18-19. The theme, 21st Century Public Policy Challenges, was highlighted by a keynote address by John A. Koskinen, Chair, The President=s Council on Year 2000 Conversion. Breakout sessions included discussions on e-commerce, Microsoft and antitrust, as well as presentations by the Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Bottom Line: The next issue of the newsletter, Bottom Line, will include information about OCA=s office and consumer tip sheets.

Constituent Contacts: During March 1999, OCA responded to 535 requests from constituents: 289 complaints, 150 requests for information, and 96 requests for publications. This compares to 258 total contacts from constituents during February 1999. Approximately, 51 percent of the contacts came through e-mail and the Internet. Most of these e-mails were complaints and inquiries (more than 98 percent), demonstrating that consumers who have access to the Internet are using it to complain and request information. The top areas of complaints concerned banking and credit, automobiles, computers, and telecommunications.



Sprinkler Testing without the High Cost, MessBor the Flames: NIST is creating a way to engineer the performance of fire sprinkler systems, a development that could make fire safety systems of the future better and more economical.

The Industrial Fire Simulator (IFS) combines computer technology, the latest advances in mathematical modeling techniques and measurements from controlled fire experiments conducted at NIST and elsewhere.

Researchers in NIST=s Building and Fire Research Laboratory are developing the computer program and bench-scale measurement techniques to determine the burning properties of different fuels and spray properties of fire sprinklers.

The computer model will simulate fire spread and the response of a given sprinkler system. Engineers, building owners, and local authorities will be able to specify input for the facility size and shape; its contents; and a proposed fire protection system, including sprinklers. The IFS produced video simulations of possible fire scenarios that can be viewed and quantified to evaluate the likely effectiveness of the proposed fire protection system.

NIST is partnering with the insurance and sprinkler industries to further develop this technology. Initially, this technology will be used in planning large-scale fire experiments with fire sprinklers. Ultimately, the program will help fire protection engineers design more effective fire safety systems tailored to individual buildings. NIST expects to make the first version of the IFS for fire sprinklers available by the end of the year.

Get a Jump on the Bug with New NIST Kit: With everything from a self-assessment checklist to upgraded software, a new AY2K Jumpstart Kit@ now is available to help small businesses better deal with the year 2000 computer problem. The main component of the kit is software known as AConversion 2000: Y2K Self-Help Tool.@ Developed last year by NIST=s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the software has been upgraded and now is available in both Microsoft AccessJ and ExcelJ versions.

The kit and software can help small manufacturers and other small businesses conduct an inventory of equipment; identify core business systems and rate their importance to the survival of the business; develop contingency plans; and plan and manage remediation projects.

Molding the Future of Auto Bodies: The first ballpoint pen, goes the manufacturing saw, costs you a hundred grand. But the second costs only pennies. Success lies in a process that allows you to produce large quantities of your product quickly and cheaply.

Design Evolution 4 (DE4), a small firm in Lebanon, Ohio, believes it has that process for the car of the future. DE4 developed a molding system that creates the one-piece composite chassis of the Solectria Sunrise electric sedan. Developed by the Northeast Alterative Vehicle Consortium (Boston, Mass.) with support from the NIST=s Advanced Technology Program and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Sunrise is a full-featured, all-composite electric vehicle. Its novel one-piece construction eliminates hundreds of individual parts, reduces the body/chassis weight to 350 pounds, and provides extraordinary crash-worthiness.

But to be commercially viable, such a vehicle needs a rapid, low-cost manufacturing process. DE4's solution was a unique multiport injection mold. The rate of flow for each port can be adjusted individually throughout the process for the greatest efficiency. The DE4 system has cut the cycle time required to mold a complete Sunrise chassis from a matter of hours to about 30 minutes. DE4 is now working to automate the process fully and cut time even further.

Measure Mercury More Accurately with New Mussel Tissue Standard: Mollusks, such as clams, oysters and mussels, make tasty chowders, stuffings and appetizers, but marine scientists may prefer a new mussel standard from the NIST. The new Mussel Tissue Standard Reference Material will ensure accuracy for scientists who measure trace elements, such as mercury, cadmium, and lead, in marine life.

Since mercury and other toxic metals can accumulate in mussels, oysters, and other mollusks, scientists monitor these species as sentinels to flag attention to dangerous pollutants in the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency has recently targeted one such pollutant, mercury, for reduction. In order to assess the success of reduction efforts, environmental scientists must be able to measure mercury in marine tissue very accurately.

The new mussel tissue standard dried mussel tissue. NIST scientists very accurately measured levels of mercury and other trace elements in the mussel tissue. Marine scientists can use it as a chemical ruler to gauge the accuracy of their own analytical measurements and methods. It is available from the NIST Standard Reference Materials Program for $354.



International Boston Seafood Show: In March the Seafood Inspection Program of NOAA participated in the annual International Boston Seafood Show. The exhibitors included privately owned seafood companies, Federal agencies, seafood brokers, importers/exporters, and various other companies servicing the seafood industry. The Seafood Inspection Program's goal in attending trade shows is to address any concerns its current clients may have regarding their seafood products that are inspected and graded through the USDC's Program. Additionally, the Program assists and certifies any interested party in training and the export and import of fishery products. Participants complying with the regulations enforced through this Program, are eligible to use the offered Federal Grade marks. These grade marks, U.S. Grade A, Processed Under Federal Inspection (PUFI), and USDC Lot Inspected, attest to the quality and level of inspection those particular products underwent. These marks are used visibly on various fishery products, in supermarket seafood cases, on restaurant menus, and point-of-sale literature. The Seafood Inspection Program has set up a toll free number for questions or concerns relative to seafood products (800-422-2750).

Spring Flood Outlook: NOAA announced that there is a greater than average potential this spring for flooding in Oregon and Washington east of the Cascades due to snow melt. Other areas with heightened flood potential are in Idaho and adjacent streams in Oregon and Montana, North Dakota=s Red River Basin, and Devil=s Lake in North Dakota. Drier than average conditions are expected in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah, western Texas, and Hawaii. Consumers are encouraged to keep up with weather predictions by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, which operates 24-hours a day.

AStudent Connection@ Offers Internet View into NOAA Research Ship Operations: NOAA has created a web site that enables students with an interest in ocean science to track the operations of a Hawaiian-based NOAA fisheries research ship, the agency announced. Through the web site, students can also contact and interact with ship=s officers and scientists while the ship is at sea conducting research on Hawaiian monk seals, coral reef fish, seabirds, lobsters, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, oceanography, and more.

With the help of a Pioneer Grant, officers of the NOAA ship Townsend Cromwell, in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries Honolulu, have initiated AStudent Connection.@ Utilizing the Internet and Inmarsat (satellite communications), the project enables students to track the vessel=s position through posted electronic charts and to view pictures taken aboard ship and from small craft conducting research around the coral atolls. Though geared toward high school students, the project is open to all. Students and teachers can access the web site and ask questions about what they see. Questions will be answered by a knowledgeable person aboard and posted back on the web site for all to view and benefit from.

NOAA Ship Saves Three Mariners from Perishing in Stormy Seas: Through a combination of sharp eyes, vigilance and sheer luck, three mariners clinging to their capsized motor boat were plucked out of stormy seas Sunday by crew members of the NOAA fisheries research ship Oregon II. The mariners, who had been unable to send a distress signal, had been in the water for about five hours, and probably would have perished if the ship hadn=t passed nearby and seen them. Oregon II was 25 miles out to sea off Cape Canaveral heading toward the ship=s home port in Pascagoula, Mississippi, when the two men and one woman were spotted. Their 25-foot recreational boat had capsized in six to eight-foot seas, and as there was no distress signal sent, it was by chance that the Oregon II came close enough to see and rescue them.




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

Alzheimer=s Disease: Managing the Later Stages in the Home (AVA17748VNB1NEN, $50 plus a handling fee): This multimedia package consists of a videotape and a presenter=s guide. The videotape provides caregivers the information to help them effectively manage problems associated with the later stages of Alzheimer=s Disease in the home environment. It addresses specific problems such as the patient=s physical safety, emotional well-being, personal comfort, feeding difficulties, and incontinence.

The Final Months of the War with Japan: Signals Intelligence, U.S. Invasion Planning, and the A-Bomb Decision (PB99-928991NEN, $44 plus a handling fee): From the standpoint of international news, the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor and the resulting war in the Pacific ranks as one of the most significant events of the 20th Century. Just as momentous are the circumstances that led U.S. military and civilian leaders to consider an invasion of Japan=s homeland in order to force an unconditional surrender from the enemy. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has made this intelligence monograph by Douglas J. MacEachin available to the public. In his research, the author (retired from the CIA in 1997 and now a Senior Fellow at Harvard=s Kennedy School of Government) located enough declassified and unclassified materials to present the story in considerable detail. His sources include minutes of meetings, decision memoranda, planning papers, and estimates of casualties, as well as handwritten notes from President Truman.

Earth Day, April 22: To assist in celebrating Earth Day, waste management technicians, environmental engineers, technology and science teachers and trainers will all find the Preserving the Legacy video series on waste management required viewing. The series covers a wide range of waste management concerns from water pollution to petroleum pollution to waste in the papermaking industry. The programs were prepared for the U.S. EPA and won the Silver Screen Award, U.S. International Film and Video Festival; and the Gold Cindy award, Association of Visual Communicators. Sample programs in the Preserving the Legacy series include: Introduction to Waste Stream Management; Biological Treatment Technologies; The Chemical Industries; The Food and Agriculture Industries; The Paint and Surface Coating Industries; The Papermaking Industry; Pollution Prevention, and Clearing the Air. Each program is $99 plus a handling fee.