Every day we receive inquiries from people all over the country asking for information about their consumer programs. Motorists want to know whether their car model has been recalled for a defect. Worried householders ask what rights they have against commercial movers that they believe treated them unfairly. Other consumers want to report a hazardous product that injured their children.
A few years ago, it would have been difficult to refer them to the appropriate consumer service in government. But now there are several toll-free government “hotlines” that citizens can use to obtain answers to their questions–often on the spot–or to register their complaints.
Although the number of calls to these hotlines is increasing and the experience in handling them improving, the vast majority of Americans do not know about them. Part of the problem is the government agencies themselves. They could publicize their service more effectively.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) doubled its number of calls received from motorists within a few months after a determined campaign to inform the public about its service. NHTSA now handles about 1,500 calls a week with a growing volume from month to month.
The purpose of these hotlines is both to inform people and to hear their specific complaints, experiences and ideas. Properly run and publicized, it could be a valuable two-way street between consumer and government that, for example, could lead to wholesale removals of hazardous products from the marketplace and improved standards and enforcement of the laws.
Jimmy Carter could say that it is one way to bring government closer to the people.
The nice thing about government hotlines is that callers can find out more about the agency directly and, if they do not, can complain constructively to enhance this sensitive barometer of the public’s pulse.
NHTSA has even put several of their top officials on hotline duty for a few hours at a time to acquire just such a sensitivity. And as collectors of data, these toll-free phone lines offer great potential for officials who want to be truly public servants.
Here are several hotline numbers that you may wish to jot down for future reference:
Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)–Gives information on interstate moving of household goods; limited assistance to consumers with complaints against interstate movers; receives complaints concerning interstate train and bus travel.
Washington, D.0 275-7301
Continental U.S 800-424-9312
National Solar Heating and Cooling Information Center- Provides information concerning commercial availability of solar installations for heating and cooling.
Continental U.S 800-523-2929
Consumer Product Safety Commission–Receives reports on injuries and fatalities relating to hazardous manufactured products and assists consumers in evaluating safety of products on sale to the public.
Continental U.S. 800-638-2666
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration–Receives reports on auto safety problems; provides information on autos recalled and complaints received about specific makes and models.
Washington, D.C. 426-0123
Continental U.S 800-424-9393
5. Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Hotline–Furnishes information to consumers with all types of housing problems and particularly those involving discrimination.
Washington, D.C. 755-5490
Continental U.S 800-424-8590
6. Federal Community Education Clearinghouse–Gathers, analyzes, and disseminates information on a broad range of topics related to community education.
Washington, D.C. 770-3000
Continental U.S 800-638-6698
7. Educational Grants–Provides general information about the Basic Education Grants program.
Continental U.S 800-638-6700
(These toll-free numbers are not available to residents of Alaska or Hawaii.)