The GM recall problem seems to never head for this automotive giant. Mary T. Barra, chief executive of General Motors, is expected to tell a House panel on Wednesday that the auto giant is determined to change its culture and prevent another safety crisis similar to its deadly delay in recalling millions of small cars with a defective switch.
But Ms. Barra is likely to face skeptical questions from some lawmakers, who plan to ask her about contradictions between the findings of G.M.’s internal investigation and the congressional committee’s inquiry, according to congressional staff members.
Among those questions are whether a lower-level engineer, Raymond DeGiorgio, acted alone in approving the switch’s original design and later modification, what role cost pressures may have played in his decisions, and what Ms. Barra knew about product safety issues before she became chief executive in January.
GM’s internal investigation, by the former federal prosecutor Anton R. Valukas, who will also testify at the hearing, singled out Mr. DeGiorgio as bearing much of the responsibility for why the company did not fix the switch for more than a decade. The switch could easily turn off, shutting the engine and disabling air bags. G.M. has linked at least 13 deaths to the defect.
Mr. DeGiorgio not only approved the switch, the report said, but after modifying it in 2006 by making it harder to turn, he helped hide the problem when he failed to change the corresponding part number.
But Mr. DeGiorgio told congressional investigators that he had not acted alone, and that other G.M. engineers had been involved in the approval process because the switch had other problems.
Mr. Valukas’s report also said that Mr. DeGiorgio was responsible for fixing the switch, and signed off on the change. But congressional staff members say that at least five G.M. employees appear to have been aware of the change. And a G.M. “supply quality engineer” signed off on it with Mr. DeGiorgio, according to the investigators.
Beyond Mr. DeGiorgio’s role, the panel wants to ask Ms. Barra whether cost and time pressures at G.M. influenced Mr. DeGiorgio to approve the switch, even though it did not meet G.M. specifications for the amount of force needed to turn the key. At the time, early in the last decade, G.M. was reeling from billions in losses. It would eventually tumble into bankruptcy in 2009.
“The series of questionable actions and inactions uncovered in the investigation were inexcusable,” Ms. Barra wrote in her prepared remarks, and she plans to tell lawmakers she had already begun a program that encourages employees to report safety problems.
Ms. Barra, who first testified on April 1 before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, is likely to fall under more scrutiny this time, the staff members said.
As part of what Mr. Valukas called a dysfunctional management culture at G.M., the report stated that “those in the best position to demand quick answers did not know questions needed to be asked.”
But the congressional investigators say that high-level company executives attended a meeting in 2009 where the problems were discussed. And some of the decision makers identified by Mr. Valukas worked under Ms. Barra when she was executive vice president for global product development, congressional investigators say.
Lawmakers also plan to ask Ms. Barra why G.M. continued to install switches in 2008 through 2011 vehicles, even when those switches did not meet its specifications, the staff members said. G.M. has not acknowledged doing this, in its own statements or in Mr. Valukas’s report.
Another contradiction is that while G.M. said it mistakenly classified the switch problem as a “convenience issue” and not a safety question, because it did not recognize the connection of the ignition switch to air bag non-deployment. This was not the first time the classification question was raised. GM has lost a large amount of respect from its customers and is now coming into questions from all sides.
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