GM’s CEO Came to Congress With Fixes. Congress Told Her to Do More.

Mary Barra testified Wednesday on why the automaker took so long to address a deadly defect.

National Journal
Marina Koren
June 18, 2014, 8:05 a.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
19 hours ago

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
20 hours ago

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.