GM's victim compensation adviser Kenneth Feinberg during a news conference June 30 where he laid out the details of the compensation program he is administrating for General Motors. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Washington — A Senate panel investigating General Motors Co.’s massive recalls has called five people to testify next week: GM CEO Mary Barra, along with the automaker’s general counsel, the CEO of Delphi, an outside victim compensation adviser and the person who oversaw GM’s internal investigation.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee overseeing auto safety, disclosed that GM general counsel Michael Millikin and Delphi CEO Rodney O’Neal will testify at a July 17 hearing. It’s a sign that senators may take a closer look at GM’s legal department and the role of its former parts unit, Delphi.
Also testifying are victim compensation adviser Kenneth Feinberg and former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas, who prepared the internal report on GM.
“Mary and Mike will testify. We hope to talk about our actions that are underway to do what is right in the wake of the recall,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said.
The committee’s top Republicans and Democrats sent Delphi — the supplier that made the faulty ignition switch linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes — a list of detailed questions about the company’s role in building ignition switches that didn’t meet specifications.
“We look forward to continuing our cooperation with the committee at next week’s hearing,” Delphi spokeswoman Claudia Tapia said Tuesday, confirming that O’Neal will testify.
Delphi has disclosed it has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in New York investigating GM’s delayed ignition switch recall. It has also turned over hundreds of pages of records to a House committee also investigating the recall. It faces questions about why it agreed to build an ignition switch in 2002 that didn’t meet GM specifications and why it approved a redesign part in 2005 without a corresponding change in the part number.
Feinberg, who announced last week he will begin accepting claims from victims of crashes linked to faulty ignitions starting Aug. 1, said he will testify, but declined to comment further. Feinberg has been given sole authority to decide on compensation and GM hasn’t set an overall cap on the total it will pay.
An internal report prepared by Valukas and his Jenner & Block law firm found that GM lawyers kept details of the ignition switch problems and settlements from Millikin. While several GM lawyers were fired for their roles in the ignition switch problems, Millikin wasn’t asked to leave. One now-fired GM lawyer, William Kemp, told the Valukas investigators he couldn’t explain why he didn’t raise the problems earlier with Millikin. He didn’t inform Millikin until February, after GM had begun the recall.
GM lawyers were allowed to approve lawsuit settlements of up to $5 million without informing Millikin; they did so in at least one ignition switch settlement.
McCaskill said that the committee hasn’t asked fired GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio to testify. Senators accused DeGiorgio of lying in April and he came in for much of the blame for GM’s delayed recall. “We’re going to see if we can get all the answers to our questions, and if we still feel like there’s some questions we need to ask, then we’ll reach out to him directly,” McCaskill said.
DeGiorgio gave a lengthy interview to House Energy and Commerce investigators in April.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, a member of the Commerce Committee, said GM at the next hearing needs to show it has “a plan that would not allow those sorts of things to happen again.”
Delphi has had a difficult decade.
When it filed for bankruptcy in 2005, the parts supplier had 50,000 U.S. employees and more than 30 plants. It closed more than 70 sites worldwide, most of them in the United States, during bankruptcy. Today, Delphi has 5,000 U.S. workers and a handful of U.S. plants.
Delphi has a market capitalization of about $21 billion today after launching an IPO in late 2011. It has boosted business dramatically outside of North America and to automakers beyond GM.