Mary Barra arrived at the Capitol with a much-anticipated list of fixes on Wednesday.
The CEO of General Motors told the House Energy and Commerce's Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee that her company has taken a series of steps following a recent internal report that found the automaker took more than a decade to address an ignition-switch defect. The faulty feature has been linked to at least 54 accidents and 13 deaths, and GM has recalled 20 million cars so far.
"I told our team as bluntly as I knew how that the series of questionable actions and inactions uncovered in the investigation were inexcusable," Barra said Wednesday. "I also told them that while I want to solve the problems as quickly as possible, I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened. I want this terrible experience permanently etched in our collective memories."
In response to the May report, GM has, according to Barra:
- Fired 15 employees identified in the report.
- Restructured its "safety decision-making process" so that senior management will be kept in the know about problems.
- Hired someone to establish a compensation fund for victims and families affected by the defect.
- Hired a vice president of global safety and 35 safety investigators.
- Created a program called Speak Up For Safety to encourage employees to report potential safety issues.
This last change was the most salient for members of Congress at Wednesday's hearing. Last month's report cited a lax corporate culture within GM that generated a "lack of accountability and a lack of urgency" in addressing the defect. Barra and the rest of GM, some lawmakers say, should focus on fixing that work environment.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, called the atmosphere at GM a "culture of irresponsibility" and said the car manufacturer has "institutional problems much more far-reaching than simply firing 15 employees."
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., the ranking member of the subcommittee, said that by terminating employees, Barra has "only created more paranoia within the company that people are going to lose their jobs," making them less likely to speak up about problems.
Two hours into the hearing, members of the committee continued grilling Barra. The fixes she brought before them may have been a good start in the investigation into the recalls, but they're certainly not the end of it.