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Space Station: Russian Compliance With Safety Requirements (Testimony,
03/16/2000, GAO/T-NSIAD-00-128).
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) International Space
Station, focusing on: (1) areas where the Russian-built Zarya and
Service Module do not comply with safety requirements; (2) NASA's review
and approval of noncompliances; and (3) whether NASA was due any
compensation from the Zarya contractor for noncompliance or performance
problems.
GAO noted that: (1) Russian elements have complied with the majority of
space station safety requirements, but Zarya and the Service Module
still do not meet some important requirements; (2) according to NASA
safety officials, significant areas of noncompliance include: (a)
inadequate shielding from orbital debris on the Service Module; (b)
inability of Zarya and the Service Module to operate after losing cabin
pressure; (c) lack of verification for the design and service life of
the Service Module windows; and (d) excessive noise levels in Zarya and
the Service Module; (3) NASA officials said that shortfalls in Russian
funding, designs based on existing Russian hardware, and technical
disagreements with Russian engineers are the main reasons these modules
do not comply with safety requirements; (4) NASA approved noncompliance
with safety requirements after determining the risks were acceptable,
allowing Zarya to be launched, but it has not yet approved all
noncompliance cases for the Service Module; (5) NASA approved
noncompliance with requirements for ability to operate after loss of
pressure and noise levels on Zarya; (6) NASA approved noncompliance with
requirements for debris shielding on the Service Module but has not yet
approved noncompliance with requirements for ability to operate after
loss of pressure, noise levels, and window design and service life; (7)
NASA approves noncompliance with safety requirements when it determines
that the risks are acceptable because plans are in place to mitigate
risk or the deficiencies will last only a limited time; (8) NASA and the
Russian space agency plan to correct safety deficiencies in orbit with
future space station assembly and logistics flights; (9) however, the
period of higher risk to the crews and the modules may increase if
corrections are delayed for any reason; (10) correcting deficiencies in
orbit may also be more difficult than on the ground and may take up time
that the crews could spend on other activities such as research; (11)
according to NASA, the four most significant cases in which Zarya did
not meet safety requirements or had performance problems did not warrant
compensation from the contractor; (12) two of the cases--inability to
operate after loss of pressure and excessive noise--involved
noncompliance with safety requirements; (13) the other two
cases--defective batteries and poor air quality--involved performance
problems in orbit; (14) the contractor agreed to reduce noise levels and
replace the batteries at no charge to NASA; and (15) the two other
problems did not result from failure to meet contractual
--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------
 REPORTNUM:  T-NSIAD-00-128
     TITLE:  Space Station: Russian Compliance With Safety Requirements
      DATE:  03/16/2000
   SUBJECT:  Product safety
	     Safety standards
	     Space exploration
	     Aerospace engineering
	     Aerospace research
	     Noncompliance
	     International cooperation
	     Aerospace contracts
IDENTIFIER:  NASA International Space Station Alpha Program
	     Progress Space Vehicle
	     Soyuz Spacecraft
	     Mir Space Station
	     Russia
	     NASA Space Station Service Module
	     NASA Zarya Module
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Before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Committee on Science,
House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at
10:00 a.m.,
Thursday
March 16, 2000
SPACE STATION
Russian Compliance With Safety Requirements
Statement of Allen Li, Associate Director, National Security and
International Affairs Division
GAO/T-NSIAD-00-128
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
We are pleased to be here today to discuss our ongoing work on the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) International Space Station.
We are currently responding to a request from the Committee Chairman to
review Russian compliance with space station safety requirements. We plan to
finalize our work and report on this issue next month. Today, we will
address (1) significant areas where the Russian-built Zarya and Service
Module do not comply with safety requirements, (2) NASA's review and
approval of noncompliances, and (3) whether NASA was due any compensation
from the Zarya contractor for noncompliance or performance problems.
NASA invited Russia to participate in the International Space Station
program in 1993 with the expectation that Russian involvement would reduce
the cost, speed up the schedule, and increase the usefulness of the space
station. The Russian-built Zarya and Service Module are critical to the
early stages of the space station's assembly. The Zarya module, launched by
Russia in November 1998, provides the initial propulsion and guidance
functions for the space station. Zarya was funded by NASA and is therefore
considered a U.S. element of the space station. The Service Module, whose
launch has been delayed until at least July 2000, will provide living
quarters, life support systems, and guidance functions after docking with
Zarya. Russia is funding, building, and launching the Service Module as part
of its contribution to the space station. Russia also plans to contribute
Progress resupply vehicles, Soyuz crew transfer and emergency return
vehicles, a power platform, docking and stowage modules, and research
modules.
Working with the Russian space agency and other international partners, NASA
is responsible for establishing overall space station safety requirements.
NASA is also responsible for certifying that all elements and payloads, and
the space station as a whole, are safe. Russia agreed that its elements
would meet or exceed the overall safety requirements established by NASA.
Russia also agreed to provide NASA with data to support safety reviews and
certifications. NASA must approve any noncompliance with safety requirements
before it can approve launches of U.S. and partner elements.
RESULTS IN BRIEF
Although Russian elements have complied with the majority of space station
safety requirements, Zarya and the Service Module still do not meet some
important requirements. According to NASA safety officials, significant
areas of noncompliance include (1) inadequate shielding from orbital debris
on the Service Module, (2) inability of Zarya and the Service Module to
operate after losing cabin pressure, (3) lack of verification for the design
and service life of the Service Module windows, and (4) excessive noise
levels in Zarya and the Service Module. NASA officials said that shortfalls
in Russian funding, designs based on existing Russian hardware, and
technical disagreements with Russian engineers are the main reasons these
modules do not comply with safety requirements.
NASA approved noncompliance with safety requirements after determining the
risks were acceptable, allowing Zarya to be launched, but it has not yet
approved all noncompliance cases for the Service Module. NASA approved
noncompliance with requirements for ability to operate after loss of
pressure and noise levels on Zarya. NASA approved noncompliance with
requirements for debris shielding on the Service Module but has not yet
approved noncompliance with requirements for ability to operate after loss
of pressure, noise levels, and window design and service life. NASA approves
noncompliance with safety requirements when it determines that the risks are
acceptable because plans are in place to mitigate risk or the deficiencies
will last only a limited time. NASA and the Russian space agency plan to
correct safety deficiencies in orbit with future space station assembly and
logistics flights. However, the period of higher risk to the crews and the
modules may increase if corrections are delayed for any reason. Correcting
deficiencies in orbit may also be more difficult than on the ground and may
take up time that the crews could spend on other activities such as
research.
According to NASA, the four most significant cases in which Zarya did not
meet safety requirements or had performance problems did not warrant
compensation from the contractor. Two of the cases-inability to operate
after loss of pressure and excessive noise-involved noncompliance with
safety requirements. The other two cases-defective batteries and crew health
problems attributed to poor air quality-involved performance problems in
orbit. The contractor agreed to reduce noise levels and replace the
batteries at no charge to NASA. The two other problems did not result from
failure to meet contractual requirements: the specifications for Zarya
exempted the module from fully meeting space station requirements to operate
after loss of pressure, and NASA determined that air quality inside Zarya
was not the cause of health symptoms reported by the crew.
RUSSIAN ELEMENTS DO NOT COMPLY
WITH SOME KEY SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
According to NASA safety officials, Russian-built elements comply with the
majority of space station safety requirements, but Zarya and the Service
Module still do not meet some important requirements. Significant areas of
noncompliance include (1) inadequate shielding from orbital debris on the
Service Module, (2) inability of Zarya and the Service Module to operate
after losing cabin pressure, (3) lack of verification for the design and
service life of the Service Module windows, and (4) excessive noise levels
in Zarya and the Service Module. These shortcomings increase the risk of
health hazards and of what NASA terms "catastrophic" failure of the modules.
NASA officials said that shortfalls in Russian funding, designs based on
existing Russian hardware, and technical disagreements with Russian
engineers are the main reasons these modules do not comply with safety
requirements.
Service Module Is Not Adequately
Protected From Orbital Debris
The Service Module does not meet space station requirements for protection
against penetration from orbital debris. Depending on the location of the
penetration and the size of the debris, a penetration could harm the crew
and cause the loss of the space station. The Service Module was supposed to
have no more than a 2.4-percent probability of a penetration over a 15-year
period, but it has been assessed as having a 25-percent probability with
current shielding. Debris protection for the Service Module is based on the
existing Mir space station's shielding, which does not meet the
International Space Station's requirements.
In 1995, NASA and the Russian space agency agreed that the Service Module's
shielding would have to be improved in order to meet safety requirements and
that they would add more shielding in orbit. NASA and the Russian space
agency are currently planning to complete shielding upgrades in 2004, 3.7
years after the planned launch of the Service Module. The shields cannot be
installed prior to launch because they would make the Service Module too
heavy to lift into orbit. NASA estimated the probability of a penetration
without fully upgraded shielding during the first 3.7 years to be 5 percent.
The additional shields should reduce the probability of a penetration to 3.8
percent over the remaining 11.3 years of the 15-year period; this still does
not meet the original target requirement.
Zarya and the Service Module Will Not
Operate After Losing Cabin Pressure
The space station program requires that equipment located in pressurized
modules be capable of functioning if cabin pressure is lost. Pressure loss
can be caused by leaking seals or valves or by penetration by orbital
debris. Russian-built modules are based on existing designs that do not meet
this space station requirement. Much of the equipment in the modules
requires air for cooling and will eventually fail in a vacuum. When NASA
procured Zarya "off-the-shelf," NASA specifically exempted the module from
fully meeting this requirement. Consequently, loss of pressure in Zarya and
failure of its guidance systems would result in the loss of the space
station.
The Service Module is scheduled to dock to the space station in July 2000
and take over from Zarya critical guidance functions for maintaining the
space station in orbit. But the Service Module equipment would also fail
after losing cabin pressure, and if it did, the space station would be lost.
NASA plans to install global positioning system hardware and other guidance,
navigation, and control equipment on its laboratory module and on a truss
segment, allowing the Service Module to maintain control even if it lost
pressure. This equipment is not planned for installation until the end of
2001.
Service Module Windows Have Not Been Verified
NASA has not verified that the Service Module's windows meet space station
requirements because it did not receive sufficient test data from Russian
engineers until very recently. NASA officials said that they received
additional data from Russian engineers during meetings that ended in Moscow
on March 10, 2000, and they are currently assessing whether the data is
sufficient to verify the design and service life of the windows.
Space station windows must be designed to prevent catastrophic loss if a
window pane breaks. According to space station officials, if a window were
to fail, it would cause rapid loss of pressure, most likely resulting in the
loss of the crew and of the space station. Service Module windows have two
panes. Until the March meeting, Russian engineers had not provided data to
show that one window pane would withstand the sudden change in pressure if
the other pane were to break-for example, after being struck by orbital
debris. NASA engineers recognize that there can be legitimate disagreements
on technical design issues but added that without verification data, they
would not be able to determine if the design meets safety requirements.
Space station windows must also be certified to last at least 15 years.
However, the Service Module windows are based on the same design used for
the existing Mir space station and are designed to last 5 years. The Russian
space agency had not provided NASA with sufficient test data to verify that
the windows would last for 15 years, citing instead the fact that no windows
failed during the Mir's 14 years in orbit. But space station program
officials have noted that the Mir's windows show evidence of damage from
orbital debris. NASA is concerned that over the years, the outer pane may
become damaged to the point of cracking and breaking. The Russian space
agency has developed metal covers that can be installed over damaged
windows.
Zarya and the Service Module Are Too Noisy
Noise levels in the two modules exceed specifications. The general space
station specification set by NASA states that noise levels should not exceed
an average of 55 decibels over a 24-hour period. NASA relaxed the
requirement to 60 decibels for Russian-built elements because Russian space
officials would not agree to meet the general specification. However, after
launch in November 1998, noise levels in Zarya measured between 65 and 74
decibels. Recognizing that noise levels were too high, Boeing and its
Russian subcontractor provided noise reduction devices that were installed
aboard Zarya in orbit in May 1999. Noise levels subsequently dropped to an
average of 62 to 64 decibels. Boeing and the subcontractor are planning
additional corrective actions during a future shuttle flight to the space
station.
Projections are that the Service Module will be in the 70- to 75-decibel
noise range. NASA officials are particularly concerned about excessive noise
levels in the Service Module because it will serve as the crew's living
quarters. High noise levels could affect operations if crew members have
difficulty in communicating with each other or with ground controllers.
Officials are also concerned that working and sleeping in a noisy
environment could increase crew fatigue. To lower the Service Module's noise
levels, the Russian space agency agreed to a plan calling for hearing
protection equipment, mufflers, barriers, isolators, and quieter fans.
However, implementation of the plan has been slow, primarily due to lack of
funding. To protect themselves until noise levels are reduced, the crew will
have to wear hearing protection equipment because long-term exposure to such
noise levels can cause temporary or permanent hearing damage. However,
wearing hearing protection devices could affect the crew's ability to hear
caution and warning signals and to communicate with each other. In addition,
NASA officials are concerned that the crew will not use these devices if
they are uncomfortable.
The Service Module is essentially the same vehicle as the core module of the
Mir. The Mir space station noise levels have been measured at 59 to 72
decibels. A study of 50 Mir cosmonauts showed that virtually all suffered
temporary hearing damage, and some had permanent damage that disqualified
them from future space flights. At least one NASA astronaut who stayed
aboard Mir for an extended time also suffered significant temporary hearing
loss. The crew that suffered hearing damage did not wear hearing protection
equipment because of comfort problems.
NASA'S APPROVAL OF NONCOMPLIANCE
WITH SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
NASA must approve any noncompliance with safety requirements before
approving the launch of space station elements. NASA has established a
formal review process for certifying the safety of space station elements
and approving noncompliance with safety requirements. NASA believes that the
higher risks from noncompliance are acceptable if mitigation plans are in
place and if deficiencies last only a limited time. Part of NASA's rationale
for approving noncompliance is that NASA and the Russian space agency plan
to correct safety deficiencies in orbit during future space station assembly
and logistics flights. However, there are potential problems with deferring
corrective actions until after modules are launched.
Process for Reviewing Safety Hazards
and Approving Noncompliance
NASA has established a formal process for reviewing and approving the safety
of space station elements. Each partner is responsible for analyzing its own
hardware and software for potential hazards. NASA space station personnel,
working with other partners, can also identify safety hazards. When a
potential safety hazard is identified, the element provider prepares a
hazard report. The report describes the severity of the potential hazard and
the likelihood of the hazard actually occurring. It also includes a
description of the potential causes of the hazard and the controls necessary
to mitigate or eliminate it. The hazard report must also identify the method
for verifying that the controls will mitigate the hazard.
All hazard reports must be reviewed and approved by NASA's Safety Review
Panel, which is composed of senior NASA officials from both within and
outside the space station program and includes representatives from NASA's
international partners. The panel can also identify hazards and request
hazard reports from the element providers. When the panel is satisfied that
a potential hazard is understood, that effective controls are in place to
mitigate it, and that the controls can be verified, the panel chairman signs
the hazard report, thus indicating that safety requirements have been met.
When a potential hazard cannot be eliminated or controlled enough to meet
safety requirements, NASA can prepare a noncompliance report to document the
rationale for accepting the risk of not fully complying with the
requirements. NASA's Safety Review Panel approves such noncompliance only
after thoroughly reviewing the issue and determining that the risks are
acceptable. All relevant hazard reports must be signed ("closed") and all
noncompliance reports approved by NASA before launch of a space station
element is approved.
Noncompliance Must Be Approved Before
Service Module Can Be Launched
NASA has approved a noncompliance report for debris shielding on the Service
Module but has not yet approved noncompliance for ability to operate after
loss of pressure and noise levels on the Service Module and has not closed
the hazard report for the Service Module's windows. NASA approved
noncompliance for ability to operate after loss of pressure and noise levels
on Zarya prior to its launch. The status of each noncompliance is as
follows:
   * NASA approved a noncompliance report in August 1999 for the Service
     Module's inability to meet requirements for protection against orbital
     debris. The space station program was willing to accept a higher risk
     during the 3.7 years that are scheduled to pass from the initial launch
     of the Service Module until additional shielding is attached. In
     approving the noncompliance, NASA recognized that even after additional
     shielding is installed, the probability of a penetration will still be
     above original target requirements, but this will be a considerable
     improvement over the 25-percent probability if shielding is not
     augmented.
   * NASA is considering approving a noncompliance report for the Service
     Module's inability to operate after loss of pressure because extensive
     reviews determined that controls to prevent leaks from seals and valves
     were satisfactory. In addition, the time of higher risk should be
     limited to the time between the launch of the Service Module and the
     launch of NASA's guidance equipment at the end of 2001, about 15
     months. Using guidance data from NASA's equipment, the Service Module
     will be able to maintain control of the space station even after
     pressure is lost.
   * NASA is considering approving a noncompliance report for the Service
     Module's noise levels because a remedial action plan has been
     developed. But, before they will approve the noncompliance, NASA
     officials want the Russian space agency to provide a schedule for
     implementing the action plan. The officials said they believe the
     period of noncompliance should be limited to the first long-term crew's
     stay aboard the space station, scheduled to begin in October 2000. The
     crew is supposed to install noise reduction devices during its 3-month
     stay.
   * NASA has not signed a hazard report for the Service Module windows.
     NASA engineers said they will not be able to close the report until
     they have determined that data recently received from Russian engineers
     proves the window design meets safety requirements and the windows can
     last 15 years.
   * NASA approved a noncompliance report in August 1998 for Zarya's
     inability to operate after losing pressure because extensive reviews
     determined that controls to prevent leaks from seals and valves were
     satisfactory and that the module is adequately protected from
     penetration by orbital debris. At the time, NASA was also expecting the
     Service Module to take over Zarya's critical functions relatively soon
     because the Service Module was scheduled to be launched in April 1999,
     about 5 months after Zarya. But according to the latest estimates, the
     Service Module will not be launched until at least July 2000, or about
     20 months after Zarya.
   * NASA approved a noncompliance report in November 1998 for Zarya's noise
     levels because the crew could limit its time in the module and its
     exposure to the higher noise levels. If the crew needs to increase the
     time spent in the module, they could wear hearing protection.
NASA must close all hazard reports and approve all noncompliance reports
before it can approve the launch of the Service Module. Had the Russian
space agency been prepared to launch the Service Module as scheduled in July
1999, NASA might have had to withhold launch approval because the hazard and
noncompliance reports for pressure loss, windows, and noise had not been
approved at the time. However, because completion of the Service Module was
delayed beyond July 1999, NASA was not put in this position. Because the
Service Module is critical for continuing the assembly of the space station,
withholding launch approval could delay the program's schedule and increase
NASA's costs. Delays in critical Russian space station elements have already
had a significant impact on NASA's costs. A January 1999 space station
program office analysis estimated that delays in Russian elements could add
$3 billion to NASA's program costs through completion of assembly.
Potential Problems With Deferring
Corrections Until After Launch
Part of NASA's rationale for approving the launch of elements that do not
fully comply with safety requirements is that deficiencies will be corrected
after the modules are in orbit and that exposure to increased risk will last
only a limited time. However, correcting deficiencies after modules are
launched can take longer than planned, can be more difficult than on the
ground, and can affect other activities such as research.
   * Over the years, the space station assembly schedule has stretched out,
     and the total period of higher risk of losing the space station in the
     event pressure is lost in Russian elements has grown from 7 to 35
     months. When Russia first joined the space station program in 1993, the
     Service Module was supposed to be launched 2 months after Zarya, and
     NASA's guidance equipment was to be launched 5 months after that. Now,
     the Service Module may be launched 20 months after Zarya, and NASA's
     guidance equipment 15 months after that.
   * The period of higher risk could increase if development and production
     of the corrections are delayed. Because of funding shortages, the
     Russian space agency is behind schedule in developing items to address
     noise levels in the Service Module. NASA officials cited Russian
     funding problems as a major reason for delays in designing and testing
     the additional debris shields for the Service Module.
   * The period of higher risk may be longer if corrective actions do not
     bring the modules in compliance with safety requirements. For example,
     the initial round of remedial actions implemented on Zarya did not
     fully correct noise problems, and the module will not comply with noise
     requirements until additional actions are taken. Because some noise
     countermeasures are still being designed for the Service Module, it is
     not clear how many will be in place when the first long-term crew
     arrives on the space station in October 2000 or how effective they will
     be. Although Russian space officials have committed to reducing the
     probability of orbital debris penetrating the Service Module, the
     effectiveness of the additional shields will not be known until the
     designs are completed and tested.
   * Implementing corrections in orbit can be more difficult than on the
     ground. The shuttle crew on the space station in May 1999 had
     difficulty wrapping mufflers on Zarya's air ducts. According to NASA
     officials, the crew did not receive adequate training and instructions
     on how to install the mufflers and could not get them to fit properly.
     In attempting to force the mufflers around the ducts, the crew crimped
     the ducts. NASA officials believe that installing some noise reduction
     devices on the Service Module will be difficult in orbit and have
     suggested to their Russian counterparts that installation be done on
     the ground.
   * Performing corrections in orbit could divert crew time from other
     planned tasks such as research. Crews will have to perform extensive
     work inside the Service Module to install mufflers, baffles, and other
     noise reduction materials. Crews will also have to prepare for and
     conduct at least four space walks to install additional debris shields
     on the exterior of the Service Module. It is not yet known what the
     safety issues may be or what corrections may have to done in orbit for
     the other elements (such as docking and research modules) Russia will
     supply later in the assembly sequence.
COMPENSATION TO NASA FOR
PERFORMANCE PROBLEMS
The four cases we reviewed in which Zarya did not meet requirements or had
performance problems did not warrant compensation from the contractor. These
cases involved excessive noise, defective batteries, inability to operate
after loss of pressure, and crew concerns about air quality.
The Boeing Company, NASA's space station's prime contractor, is responsible
for delivering the Zarya module to NASA. In 1995, Boeing signed a
fixed-price subcontract for $190 million with Russia's Khrunichev State
Research and Production Center to build and launch the Zarya module for
NASA. The contract value increased to $222 million with modifications.
Boeing accepted Zarya from Khrunichev when the module was launched in
November 1998. NASA will accept Zarya from Boeing when the Service Module
successfully docks to Zarya.
NASA procured Zarya as an "off-the-shelf" module knowing that some of its
design characteristics did not conform with all space station requirements.
According to NASA contracting officials, NASA can request compensation from
Boeing if it determines that performance of the Zarya module is degraded or
if additional costs are incurred to fix a problem.
   * Although noise levels in Zarya exceeded NASA's safety requirements, the
     agency did not ask for compensation because Boeing and its Russian
     subcontractor agreed to fix the problems at no charge to NASA.
     Khrunichev developed noise-limiting devices that were installed during
     a shuttle flight in May 1999 and significantly reduced noise levels.
     However, because noise levels still exceed safety requirements, Boeing
     and Khrunichev plan to provide additional devices that can be installed
     on a shuttle flight scheduled for later in 2000.
   * The Zarya module experienced battery problems four times while in
     orbit, but Khrunichev is fixing these problems at no charge to NASA.
     The module uses six batteries, but only three are needed to keep Zarya
     operational. In the first instance, the battery failed due to defective
     hardware, which Khrunichev replaced. The cause of the other battery
     problems is still under investigation, but NASA officials stated that
     Khrunichev has already agreed to provide the hardware to fix the
     problems.
   * NASA did not seek compensation for Zarya's failure to meet the space
     station requirement for operation after loss of cabin pressure because
     NASA specifically exempted Zarya from this requirement. When NASA and
     Boeing procured Zarya, they knew that the module was not designed to
     operate after losing pressure. NASA did require the module to maintain
     structural integrity, audio communications, and the capability to
     transfer power and fuel after losing pressure, and NASA determined that
     the module met these limited performance requirements.
   * During a shuttle flight in 1999, crewmembers experienced headaches,
     flushed faces, and nausea while working in Zarya for extended periods.
     The crew attributed these symptoms to poor air quality caused by
     inadequate ventilation and high carbon dioxide levels. After
     investigating the incident, NASA ruled out poor ventilation and air
     quality as factors in the crew's reported symptoms. NASA is still
     investigating the incident, but so far, it has not identified any
     problems with Zarya that would warrant seeking compensation from the
     contractor.
- - - -
Mr. Chairman, this concludes our statement. We will be happy to answer any
questions you or members of the Subcommittee may have.
Contact and Acknowledgement
For questions regarding this testimony, please contact Allen Li at (202)
512-4841. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony included
Jerry Herley, Richard Eiserman, Vijay Barnabas, and Gregory Harmon.
(707494)
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