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
Add to Briefcase
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 »
Doesn’t Express Confidence in Marino
Trump to Declare Opioid Emergency Next Week
1 hours ago

After initially promising it in August, "President Trump said Monday that he will declare a national emergency next week to address the opioid epidemic." When asked, he also "declined to express confidence in Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), his nominee for drug czar, in the wake of revelations that the lawmaker helped steer legislation making it harder to act against giant drug companies."

Trump Still Considering Yellen For Fed
9 hours ago

"President Donald Trump plans to formally interview Janet Yellen this week about potentially staying on as Federal Reserve chair, two people familiar with the matter said...Many Republicans on Capitol Hill want Trump to move on from Yellen, whose first term ends in February, and choose a more traditionally conservative Fed chair."

Trump Noncommittal on Marino
9 hours ago
Manchin Asks Trump to Drop Marino’s Nomination for Drug Czar
10 hours ago
McCaskill Will Introduce Bill in Response to “60 Minutes” Scoop
11 hours ago

In the wake of Sunday's blockbuster 60 Minutes/Washington Post report on opioid regulation and enforcement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has introduced legislation that "would repeal a 2016 law that hampered the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to regulate opioid distributors it suspects of misconduct." In a statement, McCaskill said: “Media reports indicate that this law has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.