The report made by U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas (scroll down to read the redacted internal report) on the failure of GM ignition switches did not find a conspiracy, but found enough to lead GM CEO Mary Barra to fire 15 top officials of the company.
Barra remarked on the General Motors official news page, “Fifteen individuals, who we determined to have acted inappropriately, are no longer with the company. Some were removed because of what we consider misconduct or incompetence. Others have been relieved because they simply didn’t do enough: They didn’t take responsibility; didn’t act with any sense of urgency.”
She also mentioned that disciplinary actions have been initiated against five other officials, and, “With these moves, I feel we have addressed the personnel issues in this matter.”
The story, however, is far from over. Both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee are expected to hold follow-up hearings on their investigation into the crisis. During their earlier hearings in April, the GM CEO had thwarted conclusions by deferring to the report pending with Valukas. Now, that the report has finally been released, Barra can expect a tougher audience this time and armed with sufficient firepower. Putting the blame on the shoulders of officials reporting to her may be insufficient.
In fact, last week, U.S. Sen. Clair McCaskill, the chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee commented on her official page, “I’m going to reserve judgment until I can take a closer look at the report-which I expect to find comprehensive and thorough-and I’m looking forward to getting a full briefing from Mr. Valukas. I won’t be letting GM leadership, or federal regulators, escape accountability for these tragedies. That’s why I’ll be holding a follow-up hearing later this summer to address unanswered questions. The families of those affected deserve no less.”
A closer look at Valukas’ report (scroll below) shows even on the first page of the “Introduction” the following observation of the U.S. Attorney: “In the fall of 2002, General Motors (“GM”) personnel made a decision that would lead to catastrophic results – a GM engineer chose to use an ignition switch in certain cars that was so far below GM’s own specifications that it failed to keep the car powered on in circumstances that drivers could encounter …”
Remarking that “Problems with the switch’s ability to keep the car powered on were known within GM’s engineering ranks at the earliest stages of its production,” Valukas goes on to say, “those individuals tasked with fixing the problem – sophisticated engineers with responsibility to provide consumers with safe and reliable automobiles – did not understand one of the most fundamental consequences of the switch failing and the car stalling: the airbags would not deploy. The failure of the switch meant that drivers were without airbag protection at the time they needed most.”
The report observes that the persistent failure of the switch combined with others “led to devastating consequences: GM has identified at least 54 frontal-impact crashes, involving the deaths of more than a dozen individuals …”
Barra, however, points out frantically, “You should know that Mr. Valukas’ report revealed no conspiracy by the corporation to cover up the facts. In addition, the investigators found no evidence that any employee made a trade-off between safety and cost.”