The Office of Consumer Affairs

October 1998 Report


DOC Consumer-Related Activities


The following agencies are included in this report:




Americans on the Move:

-- In 1993, the median length of time people lived in their homes was 5.2 years.

-- Nearly half the residential moves took place during the summer months, with June leading the way at 13.1 percent followed by August at 12.6 percent.

-- Although 43 million people moved in 1993 (16.7 percent of the population), 15.3 percent lived in the same house for more than 20 years.

-- Renters stayed in one residence for a median duration of 2.1 years, compared with 8.2 years for people living in owner-occupied units.

For questions about the data, contact Kristin Hansen (301-457-2454). For more information, see Seasonality of Moves and Duration of Residence (P70-66). For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is:

State Governments Employed More Than 3 Million in 1997:

-- The number of full-time workers employed by state governments in 1997 increased by less than 1 percent over 1995.

-- Most full-time workers were employed in education (1.1 million) followed by hospitals (431,000) and correctional activities (428,000).

-- The 1997 state government employment and payroll data provide statistics on full- and part-time employment, gross payrolls, part-time employee hours worked, and full-time equivalent employment statistics.

For questions about the data, contact Nancy Stencel (301-457-1529). The Internet address is:

More Incomes Rose Than Fell Between 1993-1994:

-- Between 1993 and 1994, roughly three-fourths of the population saw their economic well-being fluctuate by 5 percent or more, with more people experiencing increases (41 percent) than decreases (37 percent).

-- Age, sex, race, and ethnicity were not major factors influencing income gains and losses.

-- Hispanics had a slight edge (45 percent) in income increases between 1993 and 1994, compared to African Americans (41 percent) and non-Hispanic Whites (40 percent).

For questions about the data, contact Wilfred Masumura (301-457-3243). For more information, see Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Income, 1993 to 1994, Moving Up and Down the Income Ladder, P70-65). For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is:




Selected Consumer-Related Information

$ Consumer prices were unchanged in September following gains of 0.2 percent in July and August. Over the last 12 months consumer prices have increased only 1.5 percent. The core rate of inflation (prices excluding food and energy) increased 0.2 percent as it has for three months straight but is up only 2.5 percent over the past 12 months. Over the same period energy prices dropped 9.8 percent and food prices were up 2 percent.

$ Income after taxes (also referred to as disposable personal income) increased 0.2 percent in September following increases averaging 0.3 percent in the four prior months.

$ Consumer spending rose a strong 0.5 percent in September, on the strength of strong increases in durable goods and services outlays. This increase followed a 0.4 percent rise. The level of spending has exceeded income in September and four of the previous five months, resulting in negative savings rates.

$ Automobile sales increased 8.3 percent and 5.1 percent in August and September, respectively, following a 14.3 percent drop in July as the effects of the General Motors= strike adversely affected supply. The strike-related decline followed increases averaging nearly 2.5 percent in April, May, and June. Light truck sales rebounded 13.6 percent in September following no change in August and an 18.5 percent decline in August. Prior to the strike, sales of light trucks posted monthly increases averaging 3.9 percent since February.

$ Housing starts declined for the second month in a row in September, largely due to sharp declines in volatile multi-unit housing, easing 2.5 percent after a 5.2 percent August decline. Starts of single family units remain at very high levels.

$ Mortgage commitment interest rates moved below the 7 percent level in late June and continued to ease to a low near 6.5 percent in September before increasing subsequently to about 6.8 percent by late October.



Y2K Consumer Bulletin: OCA released its first consumer bulletin about the Y2K computer problem. The bulletin, The Year 2000 (Y2K): What do consumers need to know about insurance?, is available on OCA=s web site, Links were also set up with NIST=s Y2K web site and with the Federal government=s web site for consumers at

Professor of Law, University of Tokyo: Director met with Shozo Ota, Professor of Law, University of Tokyo, to discuss consumer affairs in the United States. Professor Ota is conducting research to help draft a new consumer protection law in Japan concerning consumer contracts.

D.C. Society of Consumer Professionals in Business (SOCAP): Staff attended a meeting of the D.C. chapter of SOCAP at which Jonathan Cowen of the Federal Trade Commission and Amy Holt of Trigon Blue Cross/Blue Shield discussed what the Year 2000 bug means for consumer affairs professionals. According to Mr. Cowen, the Federal government expects the Y2K conversion to cost it about $4.7 billion. Ms. Holt recommended getting hard copies of medical records, checking organizations= web sites, and using common sense and not scheduling medical procedures immediately before or after January 1, 2000.

Constituent Contacts:

-- During October 1998, OCA responded to 208 requests from constituents. The top three areas of complaint concerned automobiles, banking and credit, and stores.

-- During FY 1998 (October 1, 1997 through September 30, 1998), OCA responded to 2,047 requests from constituents, including 836 complaints, 438 inquiries, and 773 requests for publications. The top three areas of complaint concerned banking and credit, automobiles, and telecommunications.




Services 2000 Conference: A conference and dialogue on global policy developments and U.S. business sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries took place on October 16, 1998, at the DOC. The conference focused on the role that the services sector is playing in the global economy, on the new round of services negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to begin in the year 2000, and on other opportunities and challenges for business, including the development of electronic commerce.

In January 2000, the United States will return to the negotiating table with more than 130 countries to continue the work started in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The WTO=s Council for Trade in Services has already begun planning discussions for these negotiations. This conference reviewed the current status of the GATS and considered a range of important issues for U.S. service industries in the shaping of an agenda for the new negotiations. In addition, a number of concurrent industry roundtables on key services industries were organized, and cross-cutting issues such as electronic commerce and services trade statistics were discussed.




Legislation Benefits Smaller Manufacturers, Quality, and Education: On October 30, President Clinton signed the ATechnology Administration Act of 1998" into law. The act is a reworking of a proposed authorization (a bill that sets funding limits for specific fiscal years) for the Department of Commerce=s Technology Administration (which includes NIST). The final legislation contains no budget figures but does enable NIST to:

co-fund centers in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership beyond the current 6-year limit after a positive review;

add education and health-care categories to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award;

raise the maximum number of Baldrige Awards in each category from two to three;

donate educationally useful Federal equipment to elementary and secondary schools; and

establish a program for math and science teachers in elementary and secondary schools to help them teach students important lessons in measurements, manufacturing, and other areas in which NIST possesses world-class expertise.

NIST Pioneers Testing of Smart Smoke Alarms: A new generation of Asmart@ smoke alarms soon may end the many false alarms caused by hyper-vigilant detectors. Some current detectors are so sensitive that they sound an alarm in response to steam floating out of a bathroom where someone has taken a shower. Others will blast a warning about a small amount of smoke from cooking. In homes the results can range from the humorous to the catastrophic. Some people yell at the alarms, while others may disconnect them, ensuring they will not work in a real fire. Similarly, false alarms in the cargo holds of commercial aircraft can force emergency landings.

Researchers at the NIST=s Building and Fire Research Laboratory have developed a flow tunnel--similar to a wind tunnel--specially designed to test smart smoke detectors. The smart detectors can use as many as three different detection technologies and microprocessor technology to help the detector Adecide@ when to signal an alarm. For example, a detector might be programmed to ignore vapor that is not accompanied by rising temperatures.

The NIST facility will allow smoke detector manufacturers to see how their products react to vapor, varying humidity levels, smoke produced by different kinds of fires and even invisible gases such as carbon monoxide.



Weather in Outer Space: What will it mean for satellites, cell phones, and GPS (Global Positioning System)?: On October 27, 1998, NOAA=s Space Environment Center (SEC) held a media briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Using National Weather Service guidelines, NOAA will increase its efforts to help the media report stories on solar disturbances. The sun is approaching the crest of the 11-year solar cycle that brings increased solar activity. The SEC=s forecasts will now be issued using outlooks, bulletins, watches, and warnings.

As we get farther into Solar Cycle 23 and head for Asolar maximum@ around the year 2000, we can expect to see more instances of aurora borealis or northern lights, possibly as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. For more information about the SEC and space weather, see their web site at




NTIS Offers Secure Ordering Via the World Wide Web: The NTIS has begun implementing an ordering system that offers consumers direct and secure ordering via the World Wide Web for most products appearing on its web site. NTIS currently has 150,000 products which can be ordered on the Web, and is constantly adding new products to that total. A product that can be ordered from NTIS via the web will feature an order button on its web page. Ordering of NTIS products from other non-NTIS web sites is also being established.



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

The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974: (PB98-928005NEN, $45 plus a handling fee) Known as one of America=s best-kept secrets in intelligence achievements, the U-2 Cold War spy plane story stands as a monument in upholding the security of the United States. This report presents the CIA=s newly declassified internal history of the U-2 spy plane, providing a fuller context for understanding some of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War. It not only offers insights into the mystery and secrecy that have surrounded the U-2 for decades, but also delves into CIA records and uncovers extensive classified interviews.

Medical Subject Headings: NTIS is now taking orders for the very popular Medical Subject Headings (MESH) documents produced by the Library of Congress: Annotated Alphabetic, PB99-964801, $49.95; Tree Structures, PB99-964901, $44.95; Permuted, PB99-965101, $40.95. A $5 handling fee is charged per total order. All three documents are expected at NTIS on November 23.

Armed Forces Recipe Service and Index of Recipes: (TM10-421NEN, $127 plus a handling fee) When the prospect of cooking for large groups leaves consumers wondering what to serve, NTIS can help take the guesswork out of planning with time-tested recipes used by the U.S. Army. These terrific, sure-fire recipe cards provide culinary inspiration along with instructions for cooking to make portions for 100 people or more. Convenient 5 X 8 inch index cards list more than 1,300 recipes from appetizers to desserts. General guidelines for cooking and the nutritional value of food are also provided.

Agricultural Statistics, 1998: (NASSZAG98NEN, $28 plus a handling fee) Revised agricultural statistics are in. This comprehensive statistical report (revised annually) contains current and historical agricultural data. Statistics cover grain, feed, cotton, tobacco, sugar crops, honey, oilseeds, fats and oils, vegetables, fruits, tree nuts, horticultural specialties, hay, minor field crops, cattle, hogs, sheep, dairy, poultry, farm resources, income expenses, taxes, insurance, credit, stabilization and price-support programs, consumption, fertilizers, pesticides, and more.


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

PR-821 Catalog of Health Care Financing Administration=s (HCFA) Information Products Available from NTIS--includes product descriptions for videos on home health care, the HCFA=s report on the best practices of today=s managed care organizations, Medicare/Medicaid Manuals, National Correct Coding Policy Manual, etc.