June 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm

GM report rips 'organizational dysfunction'

GM CEO Mary Barra and executive team at press conf...
GM CEO Mary Barra and executive team at press conf...: GM President Daniel Amman (from left) , GM CEO Mary Barra, and Mark Russ, Executive President Global Development.

Warren — General Motors suffered from “organizational dysfunction” as employees said they were told not to take notes in critical meetings on safety issues and repeatedly failed to take responsibility for problems, a massive internal report found.

The recall of 2.6 million vehicles older Cobalt and other cars for ignition switch defects linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes was delayed for a decade amid a series of critical missteps.

“Over a decade, GM personnel failed to search for, share, or gather knowledge and that failure had serious consequences. There are multiple components to these failures, involving individual mistakes, organizational dysfunction, and systems inaccessible to some and impenetrable to many,” the report released Thursday found.

In the summer of 2013, GM lawyers received an evaluation that said the automaker faced risk of many more lawsuits because of the “compelling argument” that GM had “essentially done nothing to correct the problem for the last nine years.” GM officials repeatedly failed to evaluate the issue up the chain of command.

Employees weren’t trained properly or didn’t know what they were supposed to do, and different units of GM failed to share information.

“No single person owned any decision,” said the 315-page report from a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, whose legal team interviewed more than 230 employees and reviewed 41 million pages of documents. It said the Detroit automaker had a culture of a “lack of accountability.... We repeatedly heard from witnesses that they flagged the issue, proposed a solution and the solution died in a committee or with some other ad hoc group exploring the issue.”

The culture was aimed at avoiding accountability.

“A number of employees reported that they did not take notes at all at critical safety meetings because they believed GM lawyers did not want such notes taken,” the report from Anton Valukas’ Jenner & Block law firm said. No emails or memos documenting the request were found, but the direction reached the status of an “urban myth.”

Minutes were rarely kept of meetings.

“Thus as we learned in our investigation, for many of GM’s meetings — there are no clear records of attendance or what was discussed or decided,” the report found.

The report decried the “GM salute” as one way employees avoided accountability. The “GM salute” was a crossing of the arms and pointing outward toward other executives “indicating that the responsibility belongs to someone else, not me....That permeated the Cobalt investigation for years.”

GM CEO Mary Barra — who was interviewed on April 14 by the investigators — told them of the “GM nod.”

The phenomena was “everyone nods in agreement to a proposed plan of action, but then leaves the room with no intention to follow through and the nod is an empty gesture,” Barra said.

Barra told the investigators that in a prior vehicle introduction that engineers were afraid of identifying safety issues because it could delay the vehicle.


General Motors CEO Mary Barra addresses employees at the automaker's vehicle engineering center in Warren Thursday. / Carlos Osorio / AP