by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
House lawmakers on Wednesday took General Motors to the woodshed for its slow vehicle recalls, accusing the company of looking the other way as people died in a string of accidents.
Members of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee told GM CEO Mary Barra they are not satisfied with the results of an internal investigation into an ignition switch flaw that can cause engines and airbags to disable. They said there are major holes in the company’s story
“The system failed. People died, and it could have been prevented,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said.
Barra’s appearance on Capitol Hill was her first since the company released the results of an internal review that found GM had a pattern of “incompetence and neglect” that led to its failure to recall more than 2 million defective cars made from the mid-2000s until earlier this year.
GM fired 15 people after the release of the report earlier this month.
Lawmakers on the panel said that document wasn’t enough for them.
“I want to be clear today that our investigation does continue,” Upton said.
The company has been under fire from lawmakers in both parties since the company announced at the end of January that it was recalling millions of cars with the ignition problem.
The cars were mostly models that GM no longer makes, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Saturn Ion. The defective ignition switches have been linked to accidents that have caused 13 deaths, going back to 2005.
Barra again told lawmakers on the panel that she was sorry for deaths and said she “will not rest” until the problems that led to the recall failure are addressed.
“I know some of you are wondering about my commitment to solve the deep underlying cultural problems uncovered in this report,” she said. “The answer is, I will not rest until these problems are resolved. As I told our employees, I am not afraid of the truth.”
Democrats on the panel were as unforgiving of Barra as their GOP counterparts.
“These switches were bad from the start. These switches never should have been installed,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who brandished one of the faulty parts during her remarks.
DeGette told Barra the fact that GM executives were cleared by its internal report is “nothing to be proud of.”
She added that lawmakers should “get to work on legislation” to address the findings of its own investigation of the GM recalls.
Barra sought to reassure lawmakers that her company was already making changes to its handling of potential mechanical issues.
“This report makes a series of recommendations in eight main areas,” she said. “I have committed the company to act on all of the recommendations, and we are moving forward on many of them already.”
Lawmakers on the House panel were hardly convinced bye her explanations.
“In many ways the facts surrounding what finally resulted in the GM recall are far more troubling than a cover-up,” Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said. “GM engineers and attorneys who were given the facts — including reports on stalls and airbag malfunctions — and who were tasked with figuring out what went wrong — didn’t connect the dots. That’s because they were either incompetent or intentionally indifferent.”
The author of GM’s recall report, former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, defended his investigation.
“Jenner & Block was given unfettered access to GM witnesses and documents and was asked for an unvarnished account,” Valukas said. “We interviewed more than 230 witnesses and collected more than 41 million documents.”
Valukas added that he “approached this task in much the same way that I did in conducting my review of the Lehman Brothers matter, albeit on a much more expedited timetable.”
Lawmakers said they did not consider the GM probe the end of the recall investigation.
“After reading Mr. Valukas’s report and conducting this investigation, I still have questions about whether GM employees knowingly withheld information during previous liability lawsuits — information that could have led to an earlier recall and prevented some of these tragedies from occurring,” Murphy said.