Consumer Information Center: feeding America's hunger for facts

Americans are lovers of facts. This is one reason for the success of the Federal Consumer Information Center (CIC). Working out of a nondescript warehouse here, the center last year distributed 25 million pamphlets covering everything from "Automotive Rust -- Its Causes and Prevention" to the "Wind Energy Information Directory."

The center is a legacy of the Nixon administration. Since 1971 it has been distributing, editing, and promoting consumer information emanating from other federal agencies. About half of its pamphlets are free; but the remainder cost anywhere from 60 cents to $3.75.

The total budget for this program is $1.3 million a year. "And, at least, it is a case where the taxpayers get something for their money," says Ed Tapia, who manages the Pueblo operation.

Currently, the hottest item is "The Car Book: a consumer's Guide to Car Buying" from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. About 600,000 copies have been distributed since the first of the year.

The Pueblo operation is essentially that of a mail-order house -- 76 full-time and 40 part- time employees process about 65,000 orders a week. "Turnaround" time -- the time it takes to respond -- is kept to two-to-five days.

Decisions about which pamphlets to include in the catalog, consumer surveys, editing assistance, and promotion are made in Washington.

The 190 titles in the catalog are those that surveys have shown will be of interest and value to the general public and those that remain in demand. "We review all the titles four times a year. We make sure that the information is current . . .," says Sherry Remez of the CIC's Washington office.

The center works with 30 government agencies -- editing the pamphlets into "plain, ordinary English," explains Dr. Remez.

The most popular publications now are those dealing with saving money and employment.

"More and more, people want to do things for themselves. I would guess inflation is the biggest reason. So publications such as our Backyard Mechanic are doing well also," Dr. Remez explains.

One new title she believes will succeed for the same reason is "Sub-primal Cuts." These are large cuts of beef that come in vacuum- sealed packages and are increasingly available at supermarkets. The book shows people how to cut these up themselves, saving a considerable money in the process.

Dr. Remez says the CIC does not anticipate becoming a target for major Reagan administration budget cuts. "We are only a small program, and our surveys find that 95 to 98 percent of the people who order our material find it is useful," she explains.

The "top 10" requested free pamphlets include:

"The Car Book"; "Providing For Your Heirs -- Non-Sale Property Transfer"; "Facts and Myths About Vitamins"; "Keeping Family/Household Records -- What to Discard"; "How To Deal With Motor Vehicle Emergencies"; "Your Right to Federal Records"; "Small Claims Courts and Consumer Complaint"; "A Woman's Guide To Social Security"; "Buying A House? Don't Forget the Settlement Costs"; and "Arthritis."

To get the current consumer information catalog, interested readers should write to the Consumer Information Center, Dept. D, Pueblo, CO 81009.

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