On the second and final day of testimony before Congress, The Detroit Press reports the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee fired several volleys at General Motors CEO Mary Barra over her lack of answers or greater action during the ongoing GM ignition recall crisis.
Finding no allies from either side of the aisle, Barra faced tough questions and criticisms from the members of the subcommittee, with the toughest attacks drawn from subcommittee head Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The senator proclaimed former engineer Ray DeGiorgio “repeatedly lied” about knowledge of the April 2006 fix of the out-of-spec ignition switch, citing GM’s “culture of cover-up” as encouragement for egregious violations of the public trust.
Barra’s alleged lack of knowledge of the issues surrounding the switch recall came back to haunt her when Senator Barbara Boxer of California declared the CEO “didn’t know anything about anything,” and wondered why someone with the resume Barra has could not know anything during the 33 years she had been a part of General Motors.
- Barra not committing to when GM’s own investigator, Anton Valukas, could be made available for questioning by the Senate, saying the decision was his to make
- Barra not knowing how many lawsuits have been filed in relation to the out-of-spec switch, nor having been counseled by GM’s general counsel
- Barra stating no one involved with the recall still under GM’s employ had been fired, would take action if internal investigation determined as such
- Senator Dean Heller of Nevada wanting supplier Delphi to testify
- Barra clarifying her comment to the House about sharing information from the internal investigation
- GM agreeing to share documents provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with the subcommittee
Moving over to The White House, the Obama administration aims to do all they can to get a handle on the case before them, as Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest informed reporters aboard Air Force One during the President’s visit to Ypsilanti, Mich.:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — or NHTSA — has opened a formal investigation to whether GM shared the information they had about this issue as quickly as they should. Secretary Foxx has also asked the inspector general of the Department of Transportation to conduct an audit to provide a single, comprehensive review of NHTSA’s work in this case.
Finally, The Detroit News posits that Barra’s legacy — and that of General Motors — would long be haunted by nine words uttered by an unknown GM engineer in 2005 over fixing the out-of-spec switch: “None of the solutions represents an acceptable business case.”
On the lawsuit front, attorney Dana Taschner — one of the lawyers involved in the 15 lawsuits filed in federal court on behalf of affected Chevrolet Cobalt owners — wants the cases consolidated and sent before U.S. District Judge James Selina in Santa Ana, Calif., according to Bloomberg. Tascher’s reasoning is that Selina, who is presiding over the cases linked to Toyota’s unintentional acceleration debacle, is the right judge for the job of taking GM to task:
The scope of the expanding recall and number of cars and consumers involved will result in a high volume of lawsuits filed in multiple jurisdictions warranting coordinated or consolidated proceeding.
Detroit Free Press reports safety advocate and chairman emeritus of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen Joan Claybrook is calling for reform from both GM and the NHTSA. Regarding the former, Claybrook believes Barra “has more power than any GM executive probably ever had,” and could lead the reform path toward a focus on safety over costs.
As for the latter, Claybrook — who led the agency between 1977 and 1981 — wants the NHTSA to have more resources available to do its duty to the public, change the complaint-filing process for ease-of-use by consumers, and be granted the authority to purse criminal charges against automakers who fail to recall dangerous products.