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GM CEO Mary Barra Dodges Questions in Congressional Testimony

April 2, 2014
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In the U.S. House hearing on General Motors’ recall controversy, GM Chief Executive Mary Barra did not give the specifics the public wanted to hear about the defective ignition switch linked to 31 crashes and 13 fatalities. Rather, she spent most of her testimony admitting that the company made a mistake and that its internal investigation will give the answers she herself wants to hear.

When she faced the members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee On Oversight and Investigations on Tuesday, she stuck to the testimony filed in advance. The script dwelt on what the Detroit-based automaker is doing now to resolve the issue instead of what happened in the past that caused the crisis in the first place.

“Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that (small car) program, but I can tell you that we will find out,” Barra said.

“When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers,” she promised.

Barra then noted how GM responded after the problem came to light and she again owned the responsibility.

“As soon as I learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed. We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now and in the future. Today’s GM will do the right thing,” she assured.

In her testimony, she once again apologized. “That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall…especially to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry.”

When she was questioned after her testimony, Barra did not reveal the details the lawmakers were eager to hear. She answered queries with vague responses and reiterated that the ongoing internal investigation will provide the truth about why it took so long for GM to recall the vehicles.

“Why in the world would a company (like GM) purchase a part that did not meet its own specifications?” inquired Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).

“I want to know that answer as much as you,” Barra answered.

She was asked by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) if she thought the failure to address the ignition switch problem sooner was due to a possible coverup.

“That is the question I’ve asked Mr. Valukas to uncover,” she said, referring to former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, who is overseeing the internal investigation. “And I am anxiously awaiting the results from his study.”

Perhaps the most notable revelation from Barra’s testimony is her announcement that GM has retained Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg as a consultant to determine the appropriate response to the families of accident victims whose defective GM vehicles are being recalled.

“Mr. Feinberg is highly qualified, and is very experienced in the handling of matters such as this,” Barra noted. “He brings expertise and objectivity to this effort, and will help us evaluate the situation and recommend the best path forward.”

Feinberg, who oversaw compensation distribution to the victims of 9/11, the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Boston Marathon bombing, seems to be the right man for the job.

Photo credit: © General Motors CC BY-NC

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