The Office of Consumer Affairs
September 1998 Report
DOC Consumer-Related Activities
The following agencies are included in this report:
- Bureau of the Census
- Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)
- International Trade Administration (ITA)
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- National Technical and Information Service (NTIS)
BUREAU OF THE CENSUS
- Number of Americans without Health Insurance Increased in 1997:
-- An estimated 43.4 million people in the U.S. had no health insurance coverage in 1997, an increase of 1.7 million from the previous year.
-- Groups most likely to be without health insurance coverage were young adults between 18-24, persons of Hispanic origin, those with lower levels of education, part-time workers and persons who were foreign born.
-- Medicaid notwithstanding, 11.2 million poor people, nearly one-third (31.6 percent) of all poor people, had no health insurance in 1997.
For questions about the data, contact Bob Bennefield (301-457-3242). For more information, see Health Insurance Coverage: 1997, P60-202. For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/hlthin97.html.
- California Shows Largest Increase in Asian and Pacific Islander Population:
-- The number of Asians and Pacific Islanders residing in California jumped by 829,623 between 1990 and 1997. New York was second with an increase of 243,609, followed by Texas (192,544), New Jersey (146,714) and Florida (96,674).
-- California remained the state with the most Asians and Pacific Islanders at 3.8 million in 1997. New York was a distant second with 952,736, followed by Hawaii (748,748), Texas (523,972), and New Jersey (423,738).
For questions about the data, contact Larry Sink or Amy Smith (301-457-24610). The Internet address for state data is: http://www.census.gov/population/www/estimates/statepop.html. For county data: http://www.census.gov/population/www/estimates/countypop.html.
- Nearly 3 in 10 U.S. Residents Experience Health Insurance Interruption:
-- About 29 percent of the population lacked health insurance for at least one month in a 36-month period starting in early 1993 and approximately 4 percent were uninsured for the entire 36 months.
-- The percentages of people who spent at least one month without health insurance were: non-Hispanic Whites (25 percent), African Americans (37 percent) and Hispanics (50 percent).
-- People residing in the South were the most likely to experience one or more months without health insurance (34 percent). The rates for the other regions were: 31 percent in the West, 25 percent in the Northeast, and 24 percent in the Midwest.
For questions about the data, contact Bob Bennefield (301-457-3242). For more information, see Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Health Insurance, 1993 to 1995 (P70-64. For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/hlth9394.html.
- Nearly One-Third of 1997 State Expenditures Spent on Education:
-- Nearly $276 billion state government expenditures went to education and $203 billion were spent on public welfare.
-- While California collected more revenue and spent more than any other state, the most revenue and expenditure per capita belonged to Alaska.
-- Florida had the lowest per capita revenues and Texas the lowest per capita expenditures.
For questions about the data, contact David Kellerman (301-457-1502). The data are available on the Internet at: http://www.census.gov/govs/www/index.html.
OFFICE OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS (OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY)
- Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): Director attended the biannual meeting of the OECD=s Committee on Consumer Policy (CCP). The committee approved a draft declaration on electronic commerce and consumers, which will be presented at the ministers meeting in Ottawa in October. The CCP=s charter is being examined and the committee may be abolished due to budget considerations. Members continue to recommend that the CCP continue.
- National Consumer Protection Week: Director attended the organizing meeting for National Consumer Protection Week, which will be celebrated February 1-5, 1999. The week provides an opportunity for organizations throughout the nation to focus on activities to highlight the importance of consumers and to provide consumer education. AAvoid Credit Fraud: Know the Rules--Use the Tools@ was chosen as the theme of the week. The steering committee is comprised of the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, the Federal Trade Commission, the American Association of Retired Persons, the National Consumers League, the Consumer Federation of America, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the National Association of Attorneys General. At this meeting other government and private-sector participants joined in planning the week. OCA=s Director will serve on the public education committee.
- Congressional Black Caucus 28th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC): Director attended the ALC, ATools for 2000: Honoring our Past; Preparing our Future.@ More than fifty issues forums and braintrusts were conducted covering a wide range of topics. Workshops on technology-related issues focused on preparing our young people for technology-related jobs; how the Internet can help schools provide a higher quality of education; and information technology partnerships between corporations and colleges. Highlights included a workshop on AGoing Global--Resources for Small Companies,@ who want to do business in Africa which featured DoC Deputy Secretary Robert Mallett and Awilda Marquez, Assistant Secretary, USF&CS and a workshop on ATaking Charge of Your Financial Future: A Talk about Credit@ which focused on credit reports and credit scams.
- Business Champions Program: Director attended this year=s kick off luncheon of the Business Champions program at Archbishop Carroll High School. As a member of the program for the last two years, Director is among more than 55 business leaders (in both the private and public sectors) who have donated time and resources in programs such as mentoring, career day, internships, shadowing, speakers bureau, sponsorship/merit scholarships, and networking.
- WWW.Consumer.Gov Meeting: On September 24, Director attended the FTC=s meeting of representatives from 35 partner agencies in this web site. The web site is a one-stop access point for consumers to a wide range of online Federal consumer information. The site is indexed by topic to facilitate a consumer=s search for information. This web site includes consumer information on Y2K issues, among others, and will link to the Commerce Department home page.
- Consumer=s Resource Handbook (CRH): OCA distributed the CRH, which is published by the Consumer Information Center, to officials within the Commerce Department. Limited quantities are available for DOC=s employees. Others may order the CRH from: CRH, Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009.
- Constituent Contacts: During September 1998, OCA responded to 207 requests from constituents. The top three areas of complaint concerned automobiles, banking and credit, and miscellaneous topics. Computers ranked fourth.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE ADMINISTRATION
- Taiwan: Taiwan is weathering the Asian financial crisis relatively well. Several articles in the September 1998 issue of ITA=s magazine of international trade, Business America, explain why this is so. They also focus on doing business in Taiwan, including information on the best prospects, upcoming projects, key contacts, web sites, and trade shows.
- Opportunities for U.S. Infrastructure Firms: Another article in the same issue of Business America describes the demand for basic infrastructure which is on the rise around the world. It also presents the outcome of a recent commercial policy forum on infrastructure, avenues the Commerce Department is exploring to expand its support of the industry, and current Ahot spots@ for projects.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY
NIST Aims to Create THE Standard Bullet: They=re not your typical bullets. In fact, they are bullet look-alikes--painstakingly designed replicas that the NIST aims to develop into standard tools to help solve gun-related crimes.
For the National Institute of Justice, NIST plans to manufacture batches of replica bullets (and, later, cartridges), each bearing almost identical sets of ultra-fine surface marks. The marks are reproductions of scratch-like grooves that a bullet acquires as it exits through the barrel. Unique to each firearm, patterns of these striations can be the next best thing to the proverbial smoking gun. They are the means to matching a bullet recovered at a crime scene to the gun that actually fired it. Detailed optical measurements of these signature patterns yield images that can be compared to images from other firearms stored in databases. However, the highest levels of accuracy are required to make definitive matches. NIST researchers measured the pattern of striations on a fired bullet. They converted their exacting measurements into digital instructions for a computer-controlled cutting program that operated a high-precision diamond-turning machine. On a pair of unblemished bullets, the machine faithfully reproduced the striations, yielding indistinguishable prototypes of Astandard bullets.@ Akin to specialized rulers, future versions of these measurement tools will be used by examiners to check the accuracy of instruments that match bullets to firearms.
Managed by NIST=s Office of Law Enforcement Standards, the standard bullet project is key to creation of a planned integrated ballistics information network for forensics labs.
Eyeball-Like Lens Systems May Improve Future Cameras: Few cameras can come close to the human eye=s keen ability to detect contrasting shades of black and white, an essential measurement used by industry to rate the quality of electronic displays for computers and other equipment. Often the best displays have the highest Acontrast ratios@ which make for more realistic images.
While industry continually produces better displays, however, equipment used to measure contrast ratios has remained largely unchanged. One culprit is the inherent Aveiling glare,@ sometimes called lens flair, caused by extraneous light reflecting from the surfaces of lenses and other components.
Now NIST physicist Edward Kelley has borrowed a feature from the human eye in attempts to reduce veiling glare in lens systems. Because the eye is filled with liquid, it does not suffer from as much veiling glare typically seen in artificial lens systems. So Kelley built a prototype system containing oil between the lens and the camera=s charge-coupled device, or CCD, sensor.
Initial results showed a dramatic improvement in the camera=s ability to discern contrast ratios; the liquid system was nearly 70 times better than the same system without liquid. Such an innovation might one day enable U.S. manufacturers to better scrutinize displays that they plan on purchasing. Another potential application for a liquid lens system is in the growing market of digital cameras, which typically use CCD sensors.
NATIONAL TECHNICAL INFORMATION SERVICE
TDPMIS7 AND SPECFINDERJ--The NTIS has assumed a leadership role in disseminating and collecting Department of Defense (DoD) procurement-related engineering documents. NTIS and its commercial joint venture partners worked closely with DoD in this endeavor. The TDPMIS (Technical Data Package Material Information system) and SpecFinder Web sites are the technical data and information necessary to bid on military spare parts solicitations. Contractors and manufacturers will no longer have to wait weeks for paper or microfiche drawings to arrive in the mail. The newly developed systems put the vast array of technical data at a vendor=s fingertips. URL: http://specfinder.intessera.com
IRS Tax Products CD-ROM: consumers can purchase the 1998 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Tax Products CD-ROM online from NTIS at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/forms_pubs/cd-rom.html using a major credit card. This CD-ROM contains most IRS tax forms, instructions, and publications and includes software that allows users to fill out the forms on their computer and then print the forms.
Y2K: The Department of Commerce is an integral part of the President=s initiative to raise awareness of the Year 2000 issues affecting Government and industry. In cooperation with the other agencies within Commerce, NTIS developed the Y2K outreach plan for electronically sharing the agency=s information, software, and other Atoolkits.@ NTIS has a unique Y2K challenge, since it must not only review its internal automated processes but also the thousands of electronic products that it provides its customers--electronic products which originated in other Government agencies. Visit the NTIS Y2K Web site at http://www.ntis.gov/y2k.htm to keep informed of NTIS= progress over the next year.
PRODUCTS OF HIGH INTEREST(Unless otherwise indicated, call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to order these products.)
Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guide: Second Edition (PB 98-113384NEN, $54 plus a handling fee)--The primary purpose of this guide which was recently released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to assist processors of fish and fishery products in the development of their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point methods plans. The guide helps processors of fish and fishery products identify hazards and formulate appropriate control strategies. The guide also helps consumers understand commercial seafood safety and how hazards are controlled by processors.
Safe Driving Videos--Do you know how to change a flat tire safely? How to survive being stuck in a snowstorm? How to recognize situations that can cause accidents? The more you know, the safer you are on the road. The National Audiovisual Center at NTIS has joined with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in making available a comprehensive video series that teaches a variety of safe driving techniques. The series is useful to both drivers and instructors. Among the videos included in the series are: Unlocking the Mystery of Antilock Brakes (AVA20294VNB1NEN, $60 plus a handling fee); Signs, Signals and Markings (AVA20296VNB1NEN, $60). Other titles in this series include: Managing Space and Time for Safe Driving; Using Your Eyes Effectively; Breaking the Accident Chain of Events; Night Driving; Freeway Driving; Getting Safely Past the Orange Barrels; and Sharing the Road, all priced at $60. Biking: Get the Big Picture is available for $45.