GM CEO Barra to Testify on Ignition-Switch Crisis, as Recalls Spread

(Detroit Free Press/MCT) -

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra will reappear before Congress on Wednesday, amid expectations she will answer more questions about the widening ignition-switch recall than she did last time.

During questioning from House and Senate panels in April, Barra deferred answers to many questions as she awaited the results of an internal investigation by Anton Valukas, a former federal prosecutor who conducted a critical investigation into GM’s mishandling of the ignition-switch crisis. Barra has thus far fired 15 employees. On Monday, GM more than doubled the number of vehicles on which it is replacing ignition switches or keys, from 2.6 million to 6 million.

“When I was here 11 weeks ago, I told you how we intended to proceed with this matter,” Barra will say Wednesday in her prepared remarks before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The subcommittee will also hear from Valukas, who will discuss his report and answer questions.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., wants answers.

“Earlier this year, Ms. Barra testified that she would not be able to answer certain questions until the company’s internal investigation was complete,” Upton said. The committee, which opened its investigation in March, wants to compare its findings with those of the Valukas report.

In his opening remarks, Valukas notes that GM engineers knew of a problem with the Chevrolet Cobalt from its development, received reports of accidents, but did not consider the problem a safety issue.

“GM personnel approved the use of an ignition switch in the Cobalt and other cars that was far below GM’s own specification. This was done by a single engineer and was not known by those who were investigating the Cobalt from the time of the approval until 2013,” Valukas will say.

GM’s culture kept problems from making their way to top leadership. Barra did not learn of the issue until this year. Barra will once again give her commitment to fixing the GM culture that allowed unsafe vehicles to remain on the road for years before the first recall in February.

Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said, “Mr. Valukas’s exhaustive report revealed disturbing truths about GM’s systemic and cultural failures that allowed this problem to go undiagnosed for over a decade, but many questions remain unanswered about the recalls and resulting changes within the company.”

Valukas will acknowledge that while the report answers many questions, it leaves others open. He notes in his written testimony: “Government officials (and perhaps judges and juries) will assess the credibility of witnesses and whether there was civil or criminal culpability.”

The committee has received more than 1 million pages of documents from GM, and another 15,000 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.