The Office of Consumer Affairs
November 1998 Report
DOC Consumer-Related Activities

The following agencies are included in this report:

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


  • Most Latin American Countries Aging Faster than United States:

    -- The country in the Western Hemisphere with the oldest population is Uruguay, where 17 percent of the population is 60 or older.

    -- By 2025, at least one-fifth of the population in 15 countries in the Americas is likely to be age 60 and over.

    -- Projections to the year 2025 suggest that in several countries of the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, Cuba and Chile, there will be more people age 60 and over than people under age 15. There are no such countries today.

    For more information, contact Kevin Kinsella (301- 457-1371). For a copy of the wall chart, AAging in the Americas into the XXI Century,@ contact the Census Bureau=s Public Information Office (301-457-3030). The Internet address is

  • Population Profile of the Nation Released: The Census Bureau has released a report that brings together a wide range of sample survey and census data on demographic, social and economic trends for the United States. Population Profile of the United States: 1997, P23-194 contains sections on national and state population trends and projections; geographical mobility; school enrollment, educational attainment and post-secondary school financing; households and families; marital status and living arrangements; fertility, child care arrangements, and child support; disability, program participation, and health insurance; labor force and occupation; money income and poverty; race and Hispanic-origin populations; and the elderly population.

  • For questions about the data, contact Bob Kominski (301-457-2120). Access the report on the Internet at



    Selected Consumer-Related Information

    $ Consumer prices were up a slight 0.2 percent in October following no change in September. Over the last ten months consumer prices have increased at an annual rate of 1.6 percent, a bit less than last year=s 1.7 percent gain. The core rate of inflation (prices excluding food and energy) increased 0.2 percent, equal to the average rate of increase for the first nine months of 1997.

    $ Income after taxes (also referred to as disposable personal income) increased 0.5 percent in October following a 0.3 percent rise in September and increases of 0.4 percent in each of the two prior months.

    $ Consumer spending posted another strong gain in October, up 0.5 percent following an upward-revised jump of 0.7 percent in September. Spending increases were across the board, but with continued strength in outlays for consumer durables, at the start of the fourth quarter.

    $ Automobile sales increased 6.1 percent in October following gains of 5.1 percent and 8.3 percent in September and August, respectively. Light truck sales increased 8.2 percent in October following a sharp rebound of 10.6 percent in September after no change in August and an 18.5 percent decline in July due to the General Motors strike.

    $ Housing starts increased 7.3 percent in October, largely reversing the decline in the two prior months. Single-family starts rose to a level only slightly below their 1.3 million unit annual rate peak in July.

    $ Mortgage commitment interest rates remained below the 7 percent level in early December as they have since late June. Since September, mortgage rates have moved in the 6.5 to 6.8 percent range.



  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Workshop on Electronic Commerce: OCA commented on the draft FTC Federal Register Notice for the FTC=s workshop on consumer protection in the global electronic marketplace. The workshop is expected to be held in the spring of 1999.

  • Alliance Against Fraud in Telemarketing (AAFT): The Director attended the quarterly meeting of the AAFT. The Federal Communications Commission expects its slamming rules to be issued in December; it is also conducting a rulemaking regarding telephone truth in billing and billing format. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is developing a card on telemarketing fraud which will be mailed to every household in the United States next spring.

  • Kenilworth Parkside Resident Management Corporation (KPRMC): The Director conducted a conference call among herself, Kimi Gray of the KPRMC, and Joe Gattuso of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to discuss Web TV and how it works. KPRMC is exploring the possibility of a subsidized Web TV pilot project within its community.

  • Constituent Contacts: During November 1998, OCA responded to 167 requests from constituents. The top three areas of complaint concerned banking and credit, miscellaneous, automobiles, and mail order.


  • General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) 2000 Negotiations: Attorneys from 26 nations assembled in Paris November 9-10, 1998, to discuss issues relevant to the transnational practice of law in the period leading up to the GATS 2000 negotiations. Some of the topics discussed were: ways to facilitate the provision of legal services across national borders; the need for the legal profession worldwide to provide input into the GATS negotiation process with a unified voice; and concerns over the recent trend toward establishment of multi-disciplinary partnerships (i.e., accounting and consulting firms that also provide legal services). The group agreed to meet again in the year 2000, and hopes to have representatives from many more countries at the next forum. This year=s forum was organized by the bar associations of the United States, Japan, and the European Union.



  • Do As the Romans Do...Or Don=t?: While the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem has people worldwide fearing what will happen to their computers on that January 1, another calendar-related controversy will begin 365 days earlier. The dilemma faced on January 1, 1999-- how will one write out the year in Roman numerals?

    Because the NIST is one of two official timekeepers for the United States (the U.S. Naval Observatory is the other atomic clock operator), the agency=s Research Library often addresses questions on how to correctly express times and dates. Recently, the NIST librarians were asked to tackle the issue of whether the year 1999 should be written as MCMXCIX or MIM.

    Their response was that while MIM is more convenient, MCMXCIX probably will be favored because of earlier precedents with numbers such as 49 (written as XLIX rather than IL). However, the librarians point out that purists will use neither MIM nor MCMXCIX, opting instead for MCMXCVIIII. The ancient Romans, they explain, did not use the 20th century convention of IX for the number nine.

  • Calls to the U.S. Copyright Office, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Directors Guild of America, and the American Institute of Architects revealed that none of the bodies controlling copyright notices, film credits, and cornerstone inscriptions--all of which use Roman numeral dates--has an action plan for dealing with the AYear 1999 problem.@

  • NIST Scientists Study High-Strength Concrete (HSC) Failure in Fires: Scientists at the NIST are studying the performance of high-strength concrete under fire conditions to find ways to use it safely. HSC is a state-of-the-art material that is increasingly popular in the construction industry. The study includes testing HSC specimens at elevated temperatures by researchers at NIST=s Building and Fire Research Laboratory. Past experiments have shown that high temperatures significantly weaken HSC. It has higher potential for sudden failure than normal strength concrete when exposed to temperatures of 350 degrees Celsius or higher.

    These temperatures are well below the range of a typical building fire, and researchers believe the sudden failure of HSC in fires potentially could trigger catastrophic building collapses. HSC has been gaining in use in recent decades in buildings ranging from the Trump Tower in New York to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Designers and building owners favor HSC because it allows the use of smaller beams and columns, resulting in more usable space, lighter structures and lower foundation costs. The results of the NIST study may be incorporated into future building codes to guide designers in the safe use of HSC.

  • Leap Second Scheduled for New Year=s Eve: On December 31, 1998, a leap second will be inserted into the world=s Coordinate Time Universal scale, known as UTC, to keep it synchronized with the rotation of the Earth. The leap second will be added to the last minute before 7 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. CST, 5 p.m. MST and 4 p.m. PST, making that minute 61 seconds long. This adjustment will be made to precise clocks all over the world that keep UTC time or local time based on UTC. In the U.S., UTC is kept by the NIST and the U.S. Naval Observatory.

    See for more information. You can call (303) 499-7111 to hear NIST=s correct time announcement.

  • New Service Checks Time Software=s Y2K Compatibility: NIST=s Time and Frequency Division has established a service to assist users in testing how well their time-setting software will handle dates after January 1, 2000. The year 2000 problem, or Y2K refers to the failure of a computer program or system because the A00" year designation is mistaken for A1900.@

    The service sends the exact time to any computer that requests it, but transmits dates that are exactly two years in the future. For example, the message transmitted at 14:37:26 UTC on November 1, 1998, had a time of 14:37:26 UTC on November 1, 2000.

  • The service supports all common digital formats. The time of day will be correct and will be directly traceable to the NIST atomic clock. The service will run until the end of 1999. Users with timesetting software on their computers that receives digital time messages over the Internet can access this test facility by changing the address in the software to connect to (IP address Users of NIST=s Automated Computer Time Service modem dial-up service can test their systems by dialing (303) 554-7760.

    Windows 3.x/95/98 software modified to allow selecting the NIST Y2K test time-server is available free of charge on the World Wide Web at

    This facility is for testing only, and users should be careful about connecting operational systems to these servers. NIST will not be responsible for damage to systems that cannot properly handle dates in the year 2000 and beyond.

    The client and server software were developed as part of a joint project between NIST and the University of Colorado at Boulder through JILA, a joint institute operated by the two organizations. The work at JILA was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

  • Three U.S. Firms Recognized for Quality and Business Excellence: Two large manufacturers of aircraft and industrial gas turbines and a small manufacturer of identification and information labels were named the recipients of the 1998 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) on November 17, 1998. The companies are: Boeing Airlift and Tanker Programs, Long Beach, California; Solar Turbines Inc., San Diego, California; and Texas Nameplate Co. Inc., Dallas, Texas. Texas Nameplate is the smallest Baldrige recipient ever at 66 employees.

    Named after a former Secretary of Commerce, the MBNQA was established by Congress in 1987 to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. businesses by promoting quality awareness, recognizing quality and business achievements of U.S. companies, and publicizing these companies= successful performance strategies. The award is not given for specific products or services. Since 1988, 34 companies have received the Baldrige Award.

    Baldrige Awards are given in manufacturing, service, small business, and, starting in 1999, education and health care. President Clinton and Commerce Secretary William Daley are expected to present the Baldrige Award to the 1998 recipient companies at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., early next year.


  • Weather Service to Test Winter Weather Warning Index: The National Weather Service=s Cheyenne office will test a new storm warning procedure this winter that could result in a public rating scale designed to better describe the potential impact of winter storms. The test began November 25. The new index rates winter storms in five categories: one, a minor inconvenience; two, inconvenience; three, significant inconvenience; four, potentially life-threatening; and five, life-threatening.



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

  • U.S. Government Working Group on Electronic Commerce: Annual Report (1st), November 1998 (PB99105496NEN, $25.50 plus a handling fee)--This Report continues the work initiated last year with the release in July 1997 of the Administration=s Framework for Global Electronic Commerce (PB97-191258NEN, $25.50 plus a handling fee). The AFramework@ established a set of principles and policies that together provide a new vision for commerce in the digital age--guidelines that strive to protect the public interest while liberating private enterprise from unnecessary regulations that would stifle innovation. This report describes the Administration=s progress in implementing the strategy and presents five new areas of focus for the future. Consumers may also be interested in a related 1998 report issued by the Department of Commerce, Emerging Digital Economy (PB98-137029NEN, with appendices, $56; PB98-137011NEN, without appendices, $29.50 plus a handling fee) which begins a discussion about the potential impact on the economy of the Internet and electronic commerce.

  • Guideline for Infection Control in Health Care Personnel (PB99-105454NEN, $27 plus a handling fee): This guideline updates and replaces the previous edition issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is published to provide methods for reducing the transmission of infections from patients to health care personnel and from personnel to patients. It also provides an overview of the evidence for recommendations considered prudent by consensus of the Hospital Infection Control Practice Advisory Committee members.

  • New Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) Programs Aid the Developmentally Disabled: The HCFA has released a series of videos designed for care providers to successfully assist people with developmental disabilities. These programs are invaluable to all intermediate care facilities, hospitals, and other health service organizations--Aging and People with Developmental Disabilities (AVA20264VNB2NEN, $95 plus a handling fee); Interviewing People with Developmental Disabilities (AVA20263VNB2NEN, $95 plus a handling fee); Person Centered Planning (AVA20271VNB2NEN, $108 plus a handling fee).

  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) List 1 Chemicals Registration Information Database (Subscription, $1,050 per year--single user, Web site, SUB-5434NEN; single user, CD-ROM, SUB 5432NEN; single user, magnetic tape, SUB-5433NEN): It is becoming tougher to manufacture illegal drugs. Users of this best-selling Department of Justice database will find especially helpful a new feature--chemical code numbers which identify the Specific List 1 Chemicals a company can handle. Previously, the information stated only that the company was registered to handle List 1 Chemicals--chemicals which are used to manufacture both over-the-counter medicines and certain illegal drugs. The database is updated quarterly and is already Y2K compliant.

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

    PR929 Environmental Monitoring Methods Index-Environmental Protection Agency=s (EMMI-EPA=s) Official Database of Analytical Methods for Regulated Substances
    PR996 Occupational Safety & Health Audiovisual Training Programs from the National Audiovisual Center
    PR1039 Electronic Media Services--Let NTIS= electronic media services take your paper documents, diskettes, and microfiche, and put them in a state-of-the-art electronic media format!
    PR1067 Federal Aviation Administration Multimedia Training Collection
    PR1068 Stream Corridor Restoration - Principles, Processes, and Practices