June 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm

GM CEO to tell Congress: Recall failure 'must never happen again'

General Motors CEO Mary Barra (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

Washington — General Motors CEO Mary Barra will tell Congress on Wednesday she won’t rest until GM reshapes its corporate culture to prevent another devastating failure to recall millions of vehicles linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

“This is a tragic problem that never should have happened. And it must never happen again,” she will tell the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations Wednesday, according to her written testimony released today.

Barra is expected to face tough questions, especially about GM’s culture that emphasized years of studying problems and a lack of accountability.

“I know some of you are wondering about my commitment to solve the deep underlying cultural problems,” Barra said in her written statement. “The answer is I will not rest until these problems are resolved. As I told our employees, I am not afraid of the truth. And I am not going to accept business as usual at GM.”

GM employees told investigators they were told not to take notes at critical safety meetings, were told not to use words like “dangerous” in describing safety problems and repeatedly failed to alert superiors to problems. GM lawyers were allowed to approve settlements of up to $5 million without alerting the company’s general counsel.

Barra last month fired 15 people and disciplined five — including a GM vice president overseeing regulatory affairs and several long-time GM lawyers — after an internal review by Jenner & Block attorney Anton Valukas found a pattern of “incompetence and neglect” led to a failure to recall 2.6 million vehicles linked to ignition switch problems for more than a decade.

Valukas will tell the committee that GM “will have to make decisions about how to ensure that this never happens again,” according to his written testimony.

Barra, who has been with GM for three decades but only became CEO in January, said, “it’s time — in fact, it’s past time — to debunk the myths in our company so we can unleash the full power of our 200,000 employees, our 21,000 dealers and our 23,000 suppliers.” She and other senior leaders didn’t know of the festering problem until weeks before GM finally started its ignition switch recall in February

Barra vowed to never let the problem happen again. “We are a good company, but we can and must be much better. That’s my focus and that’s my promise to you, our employees, our customers, our shareholders and the American people,” Barra said.

GM announced 10 new safety recalls since Friday, including nearly 4 million vehicles for stalling issues linked to similar ignition problems involving keys moving out of the run position to “accessory” or “off.” GM has now recalled more than 20 million vehicles worldwide — compared with less than 1 million in 2013 — and has set an all-time record.

Barra said the report found that the “series of questionable actions and inactions uncovered in the investigation were inexcusable.”

GM paid a record-setting $35 million fine for delaying the recall to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and agreed to three years of oversight under a consent order. The Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and at least 10 state attorney generals are also investigating.