September 27, 2021

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Two Men Charged in Multi-million Dollar Darknet Drug Distribution Conspiracy

11 min read
<div>Two Texas men were charged in a complaint unsealed today for their alleged participation in a drug distribution conspiracy perpetrated over the Darknet.</div>
Two Texas men were charged in a complaint unsealed today for their alleged participation in a drug distribution conspiracy perpetrated over the Darknet.

More from: February 12, 2021

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  • Nuclear Weapons: Actions Needed to Improve Management of NNSA’s Lithium Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In December 2019, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) preliminarily estimated construction would cost between $955 million and $1.645 billion for a new lithium processing facility (LPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12) in Tennessee and would be completed between May 2028 and September 2031. This is a substantial increase in cost and schedule; in 2015, NNSA initially estimated that a new facility would cost between $300 and $631 million and could be completed between 2023 and 2025. One reason for the cost and schedule changes is increased facility size, as reflected in a more mature design. GAO's evaluation of the LPF's preliminary cost estimate found it to be substantially comprehensive. NNSA also plans to include a new technology in the facility design based on its most recent technology assessment. In this assessment, NNSA did not collect certain data needed to fully evaluate the lithium produced with the technology. GAO best practices recommend agencies ensure all necessary evidence is collected when assessing the maturity of a new technology. Otherwise, NNSA faces some risks to ensuring the technology is ready to start construction in 2024 and could face future delays to the LPF if testing reveals unexpected problems with lithium produced with this technology. Preliminary Cost and Schedule Estimates for NNSA's New Lithium Processing Facility Increased Over Timea aNNSA's estimates are reported as actual dollars and were not adjusted for inflation. Important program management tools that NNSA could use to help ensure that the agency meets lithium demand are under development and are not consistent with best practices. For example, the lithium program's current schedule and scope of work—as expressed in a work breakdown structure—do not track the same program activities. According to GAO best practices, a program's schedule should be aligned with its work breakdown structure to ensure that activities are completed on time. By aligning these management tools, NNSA could help ensure that the comprehensive scope of work for the program is reflected in the schedule and that NNSA is accomplishing all program activities on time. Why GAO Did This Study Since the 1940s, the nation's supply of lithium used in some nuclear weapons components has been processed at NNSA's Y-12 site. However, due to deteriorating facilities and equipment and the need to reestablish dormant processing capabilities, NNSA faces risks in meeting future lithium demand. To address these challenges, NNSA has developed a strategy to meet lithium demand until the 2030s, by which time it expects the new LPF will be fully operational. The Senate committee report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to examine NNSA's lithium programs and projects. GAO's report examines, among other things, (1) the status of current cost and schedule estimates and design activities for NNSA's LPF project and (2) the extent to which NNSA has developed management tools for the lithium program that are consistent with best practices. GAO reviewed NNSA and contractor documentation, compared NNSA's efforts against agency requirements and best practices, and interviewed NNSA officials and Y-12 contractor representatives.
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  • Ready-Mix Concrete Company Admits to Fixing Prices and Rigging Bids in Violation of Antitrust Laws
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  • Fair Lending: CFPB Needs to Assess the Impact of Recent Changes to Its Fair Lending Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In January 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a reorganization of its fair lending activities that moved its Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity (Fair Lending Office) from the Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending Division to the Office of the Director and reallocated certain of its responsibilities (see figure). As CFPB planned and implemented the reorganization, it did not substantially incorporate key practices for agency reform efforts GAO identified in prior work—such as using employee input for planning or monitoring implementation progress and outcomes. GAO identified challenges related to the reorganization (including loss of fair lending expertise and specialized data analysts) that may have contributed to a decline in enforcement activity in 2018. However, CFPB has not assessed how well the reorganization met its goals or how it affected fair lending supervision and enforcement efforts. Collecting and analyzing information on reorganization outcomes would help CFPB determine the impact of the changes and identify actions needed to address any related challenges or unintended consequences. Key Changes in Fair Lending Responsibilities under CFPB's 2018 Reorganization As of February 2019, CFPB stopped reporting on performance goals and measures specific to fair lending supervision and enforcement—such as the number of completed examinations and the percentage of enforcement cases successfully resolved. Without these goals and measures, CFPB is limited in its ability to assess and communicate progress on its fair lending supervision and enforcement efforts, key components of CFPB's mission. CFPB has used additional Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data that some lenders have had to report since 2018 to support supervisory and enforcement activities and fair lending analyses. CFPB incorporated these new loan-level data into efforts to identify and prioritize fair lending risks and support fair lending examinations. For example, the new data points improve CFPB's ability to compare how different institutions price loans, which helps its staff identify potentially discriminatory lending practices. Why GAO Did This Study Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, CFPB is responsible for two federal fair lending laws that protect consumers from discrimination: the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. In January 2019, CFPB completed a reorganization of its fair lending activities. GAO was asked to review issues related to CFPB's oversight and enforcement of fair lending laws. This report examines how CFPB has (1) managed the reorganization of its fair lending activities, (2) monitored and reported on its fair lending performance, and (3) used Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data to support its fair lending activities. GAO reviewed CFPB documents related to its fair lending activities (such as strategic and performance reports, policies and procedures) and to the reorganization of its Fair Lending Office. GAO evaluated implementation of this reorganization against relevant key practices identified in GAO-18-427. GAO also interviewed CFPB staff.
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Advanced Plastic Recycling
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Plastic waste in the U.S. has grown tenfold from 1970 to 2018, while recycling rates have remained low. Mounting plastic waste in landfills and oceans can contaminate ecosystems and adversely affect human health and wildlife. Chemical recycling technologies have the potential to improve plastic recycling, but several challenges remain. The Technology What is it? Plastics are found in many everyday items—including food packaging, water bottles, bags, and appliances. They are largely made from fossil fuel-based chemicals combined with various additives—such as stabilizers or flame retardants—to achieve a desired result (e.g., strength, rigidity, color, heat resistance). The majority of plastic waste in the U.S. ends up in landfills, with a relatively small portion incinerated and an even smaller portion recycled. The accumulating plastic waste in landfills generally does not biodegrade or break down. Figure 1. Methods of plastic waste disposal in the U.S. Plastic recycling technologies reprocess or remanufacture plastic waste for reuse. Currently, the dominant technology for plastic recycling is mechanical recycling, which uses physical processes—such as sorting, grinding, washing, separating, drying, and re-granulating—to recover plastics that can be substituted for virgin, or new, plastics. However, mechanical recycling technology is expensive, labor intensive, and generally results in lower quality plastics than virgin plastics. Consequently, industry is considering advanced recycling technologies— namely, chemical recycling—as an alternative or complement to mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling technologies use heat, chemical reactions, or both, to recycle used plastic into virgin-equivalent plastic, fuel, or other chemicals. In addition, recent advances in sorting technology—one of the physical processes common to both chemical and mechanical recycling technologies—may also increase the efficiency of chemical recycling and lead to increased plastic recycling. For example, artificial intelligence technologies have the potential to increase automated sorting efficiency. Similarly, another advanced technology efficiently sorts materials by identifying their molecular vibrations. How does it work? Chemical recycling can promote a closed-loop system, known as a circular economy, wherein plastics are reused rather than discarded in landfills or incinerated. There are three general categories of chemical recycling technologies: conversion, decomposition, and purification. Figure 2. Closed-loop chemical recycling Conversion focuses on converting polymers—long-chain hydrocarbon molecules built from smaller repeating units called monomers—in mixed or sorted plastics into smaller molecules. This can occur through a variety of techniques, including pyrolysis and gasification. Pyrolysis, sometimes called "plastics to fuel," turns plastic waste into a synthetic crude oil that can be refined into diesel fuel, gasoline, heating oil, or waxes. This process involves heating the plastic waste to high temperatures (300-900°C) in the absence of oxygen. Different forms of pyrolysis use different temperatures, pressures, and processing times. Gasification also heats plastic waste to high temperatures (500- 1300°C) in a low-oxygen environment to convert plastic waste to synthesis gas, or "syngas." Syngas—a fuel mixture containing mainly hydrogen and carbon monoxide—can be combusted for electric power generation or converted into other fuels or chemicals, such as ethanol and methanol. Decomposition breaks down polymers in sorted plastics into monomers to produce new plastics. This decomposition can be done with heat or chemicals. Chemical decomposition uses solvents to break the polymers into monomers. Some decomposition technologies use enzymes to break down polymers at temperatures as low as room temperature, resulting in less energy consumption. Purification uses solvents to separate polymers from additives or contaminants. Unlike other types of chemical recycling, purification does not break or modify the polymer. Purification may be used with mixed or sorted plastics.  How mature is it? While technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification are mature, their use in plastic recycling is relatively new, due in part to the low cost of virgin plastic material and the challenges associated with recycling contaminated or complex plastic products. Conversion is currently the most mature of the chemical recycling technologies, with several companies using pyrolysis, and at least one company using gasification on a commercial scale. Several companies are also developing, or are in the initial phases of piloting, thermal and chemical decomposition. Purification is the least mature chemical recycling technology, although research into it is ongoing. Advanced sorting technologies vary in maturity, with molecular vibrations for material identification already in use, and artificial intelligence sorting still under development. Opportunities Resource conservation. Chemical recycling can produce raw materials of virgin quality, thereby decreasing demand for fossil fuels and other natural resources. Reduced landfill use. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in landfills. New technologies could reduce the need for landfills, which may reduce the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. New markets. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Chemical recycling creates a market for plastic waste and a new way to reuse some plastics. Challenges Adoption hurdles. Companies looking to use chemical recycling may face several hurdles, including process and technology challenges, high startup and operating costs, underdeveloped domestic markets for recycled products, and limited incentives for recycling innovation and investment. Suitability. Chemical recycling may not be suitable for all types of plastic, particularly when polymer chains are irreversibly bonded together. Competition. Virgin plastics are typically cheaper to produce than recycled plastics, in part due to transportation costs and limited recycling infrastructure, making it hard for recycling processes to compete. Policy Context & Questions With the volume of plastic waste expected to grow over time, some key questions for policymaker consideration include: What steps could the federal government, states, and other stakeholders take to further incentivize chemical recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of these approaches? What steps could policymakers take to support a transition toward a circular economy, including innovation and investment in manufacturing and recycling capacity? What might policymakers do to promote advanced recycling technologies while also reducing the hazards associated with existing plastic production and recycling methods? For more information, contact: Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or howardk@gao.gov.
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