The Office of Consumer Affairs
May 1998 Report
DOC Consumer-Related Activities
The following agencies are included in this report:
- Bureau of the Census
- Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA)
- Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)
- International Trade Administration (ITA)
- National Telecommunications and Information (NTIA)
- Technology Administration/National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- Technology Administration/National Technical Information Service (NTIS)
BUREAU OF THE CENSUS
- Local Government Revenues Surpass $757 Billion in 1995:
-- The major share of local revenue dollars consisted of taxes ($261 billion), followed by state aid ($233 billion), user charges ($107 billion), and government-operated utility sales ($64 billion).
-- Expenditures for local and state governments totaled $1.4 trillion.
-- Expenditures for local governments were primarily for services such as education ($277 billion), hospitals ($39 billion), police ($35 billion), public welfare ($33 billion), and highways ($30 billion).
For questions about the data, contact David Kellerman (301-457-1502). For more information, see The Annual Survey of Government Finances. For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is: http://www.census.gov/govs/www/indes.html.
- Voting-Age Population Projected to Pass 200 Million:
-- The number of residents old enough to vote in the November 1998 election will rise to 200.9 million, 4 million more than in November 1996.
-- The largest gains in any one segment of the population since 1996 will be in the 45- to 64-year-old age group, a 7-percent increase.
-- The size of the 65-and-over population, who usually have high rates of voter participation, is expected to remain nearly the same as in 1996, at 34 million. They will comprise 17 percent of the voting-age population.
-- The South is projected to have the greatest number of voting-age residents (71 million).
-- Florida will be the only state with almost one fourth of its voting-age population age 65 and over. Utah will have the youngest voter population; more than 1 in 5 people of voting age (22 percent) will be younger than 25 years old.
For questions about the data, contact Jennifer Day (301-457-2464). For more information, see Projections of the Voting-Age Population, for States: November 1998 (P25-1132). For more information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting.html.
- Family Composition Begins to Stabilize in the 1990's:
-- Traditional families C married couples with children C have begun to stabilize as a percentage of all families in the 1990's and the growth of single-parent families has slowed.
-- The percentage of married couples with children fell from 50 percent to 37 percent of all families between 1970 and 1990. Since then, it has dropped only 1 percentage point.
-- The percentage of single-parent families doubled between 1970 and 1990, from 6 percent to 12 percent of all families. Since 1990, it has only increased one percentage point.
For questions about the data, contact Ken Bryson or Lynne Casper (301-457-2465/2416). For more information, see Household and Family Characteristics: March 1997 (P20--509). For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam.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.
OFFICE OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS (OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY)
Consumer Bulletin on Electronic Commerce: OCA released its new consumer bulletin, Electronic Commerce and the Consumer, on its web site at http://www.doc.gov/oca. The bulletin is the first of a series of three that will deal with issues surrounding electronic commerce that concern consumers.
National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA): Director attended NACAA=s annual meeting, AMeeting the Challenges of a Changing Economy.@ Sessions focused on changes regarding the Internet, the globalization of the marketplace, and the banking industry. Approximately 200 consumer-protection officials attended from the United States, Canada, and South Africa.
Travel Fraud: Director attended the American Society of Travel Agents= (ASTA) one-day meeting on travel fraud, ASlamming the Door on Travel Scams.@ Topics discussed included travel clubs, vacation promotions, credit card fraud, and buying travel on-line.
AConversations with America@: The Director along with spokespersons from the Bureau of the Census and the International Trade Administration briefed other bureau representatives on current efforts related to customer service standards and customer complaint systems. The Deputy Chief Information Officer of the Commerce Department sponsored this meeting to share information on activities designed to further improve customer service.
Constituent Contacts: During May 1998, OCA responded to 122 requests from constituents.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE ADMINISTRATION
World Trade Week: Each year, the President of the United States officially proclaims the third week of May as World Trade Week. All over the country, schools; government offices at the local, state, and Federal level; and other public and private associations involved in world trade plan special activities to bring attention to the importance of exporting to U.S. businesses. A partial list of these activities can be found in the May 1998 issue of Business America, the ITA magazine of international trade.
Trade Compliance Center: Business America also contains an article entitled AThe Trade Compliance Center: A Friend to the American Business Community@ in which the center is described as playing a major role in promoting U.S. exports and protecting American jobs in today=s dynamic international marketplace. It also describes the center=s following objectives: a) helps U.S. businesses resolve international trade complaints; b) creates innovative ways of monitoring foreign compliance with America=s trading partners; c) acts as an information clearinghouse for U.S. businesses; d) develops partnership with both public and private-sector organizations.
NATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION
Electronic Privacy: The Commerce Department will convene a 2-day summit to explore issues surrounding electronic commerce privacy on June 23-24, 1998 at the Department=s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The agenda and registration will be posted on the Internet at http://www.ntia.doc.gov, NTIA=s web site. NTIA is also requesting public comment, due July 5, 1998, on a draft staff discussion paper, AElements of Effective Self Regulation for Protection of Privacy.@ For more information, call Paula Bruening, NTIA Office of General Counsel, at (202) 482-1816.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY
New Specs Released to Enhance Online Learning: To facilitate exchange of educational materials over electronic networks, Educom announced recently the release of technical specifications for its Instructional Management Systems (IMS) project. The IMS was developed in collaboration with NIST and dozens of information technology firms, universities, content providers, and other organizations. Educom also made available an example implementation of an instructional management system that illustrates many of the specifications.
The availability of standard, public specifications will promote development of open, interoperable, distributed learning systems, and the reuse of instructional materials. Making educational materials available in the public domain is an important step in promoting the comments of digital objects and related searches over the Internet.
NIST assisted the project by specifying metadata (Adata about data@ that describes how, when, and by whom a particular set of data was collected, and how the data are formatted) and services for metadata, security, and role-based access control, and in developing and testing selected prototype services. NIST researchers also are helping the IMS project to develop a conformance testing and certification program for IMS specifications as well as an accreditation program for testing laboratories.
Should the IMS project opt to use an accreditation program, NIST will help establish it where the IMS specification warrants a formal test and certification system. Conformance testing and certification are recognized as necessary prerequisites to achieving interoperability. (More information on the IMS project is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.imsproject.org.)
Centers Provide Educational Vaccines for AMillennium Bug@: NIST=s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and its nationwide network of centers are stepping up efforts to help smaller manufacturers avoid being bitten by the Amillennium bug.@ The bug, also known as the Year-2000-date problem, refers to a flaw in the way dates traditionally have been entered into computer systems. Many computers that use two digits to keep track of the date will, on January 1, 2000, recognize the double zero not as 2000, but as 1900. Since computers use dates to make calculations, this glitch could cause them to shut down or generate erroneous information.
MEP centers will be conducting seminars and workshops to raise smaller manufacturers= awareness and understanding of the problem and helping client manufacturers assess their systems and resolve Year-2000 problems. The Stamford, Connecticut-based GartnerGroup, a leading authority on information technology issues, has reported that as of 1997, 88 percent of all smaller companies had not yet started Year-2000 remediation projects. (Year 2000 overview information and a self-assessment questionnaire are available on the MEP World Wide Web site at http://www.mep.nist.gov.
NATIONAL TECHNICAL INFORMATION SERVICE
NTIS FedWorld7 Takes 22,000 Comments: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently ceased taking comments on proposed rules that will set standards for organic food. As part of an effort to obtain the broadest possible audience for the rules, NTIS FedWorld helped USDA develop and operate a web site that allowed the public to enter comments and also review comments made by others. During the three-month comment period, more than 28,000 people registered to use the web site and submitted more than 22,000 comments. There were also more than 116,000 requests to read the comments, which included comments sent to USDA via the traditional means--U.S. Mail. Even though new comments are no longer being accepted, the public can still search and view the comments received by pointing a web browser to http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/.
Consumers can also connect to FedWorld=s web site at http://www.fedworld.gov and may visit the NTIS home page at http://www.ntis.gov.
World Trade Week: World Trade Week in May capped a year-long concentration on international products and services available from NTIS. Spearheaded by the rapidly expanding online International Trade and Business Bookstore, NTIS offers a broad portfolio of vital information for the business and export community in varied formats such as CD-ROMs, online information services, and paper copy reports. Since it was launched last November, the International Trade and Business Bookstore has tripled the number of partnerships it has with Federal Government and nonprofit organizations, adding world-class content to its site. In addition, TradeTalk, a new online discussion area, and Critics Corner, a new online book review area, are now available on the International Trade and Business Bookstore site. Visit the site at http://tradecenter.ntis.gov.
Products of High Interest: (Call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to order these products.)
New Videos Show How to Reduce Worker Stress: Today, preventing worker stress and injury is one of the most cost-effective improvements an organization can make. Lost work days and worker compensation for injury or repetitive stress syndrome are costly. NTIS is offering two new video products that will aid managers and other staff in reducing both lost work days and dollars:
-- Ergonomic Programs That Work (Closed-Captioned) (AVA20258VNB1NEN, $55 plus handling) shows how management commitment, worker involvement, worksite analysis, medical management, training and education, and ongoing evaluation can identify and solve worksite ergonomic hazards. Cost Savings are highlighted.
-- Nursing Homes: Hazards and Solutions (Closed-Captioned) (AVA20259VNB1NEN, $55 plus handling) comes from an Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiative to reduce injury and stress to nursing home workers whose injury rates are much higher than average because of the frequent requirement to lift and transfer patients.
HCUP-3 Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS) Release 4 Data, Documentation and Tools, 1995 (on CD-ROM) (PB98-500440NEN, $160 plus handling): The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research has issued Release 4 of its popular Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP-3) Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS). Release 4 approximates a 20-percent sample of U.S. community hospitals for 1995. This release is drawn from 19 states and contains information on all inpatient stays from over 900 hospitals, totaling about 6.7 million records in 1995. Access to the NIS is open to all researchers who sign data-use agreements. Uses are limited to research and aggregate statistical reporting. Benefits of the HCUP-3 NIS product include: 1) more than 100 clinical and resource use variables;
2) capture of uncommon conditions and procedures; 3) protection of the privacy of individual patients and physicians; 4) ability to be run on desktop computers; 5) only database that provides information on hospital charges for all payers (private, Medicare, Medicaid, self-pay, etc.); and 6) because of its size, this database supports analyses of both rare and common conditions and procedures.
Promotional Material Now Available:
PR-1047NEN Catalog of Educational Multimedia Products
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