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Washington — Two House Democrats criticized a Republican report that harshly criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to discover defects in General Motors cars linked to at least 19 deaths and 54 crashes.

The 44-page report from the House Energy and Commerce majority staff said the agency suffered a series of failures and made “inexcusable” mistakes in failing to discover the GM problem. It question the agency’s technical competence, use of analytic software, training and focus.

But Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the panel, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who is the ranking member of the subcommittee that oversees NHTSA, took issue with some findings.

“The report almost completely ignores the role played by GM. GM had the same information as NHTSA — but also knew much, much more. GM allowed the defective switch to be installed in these vehicles; for over a decade, the company had the opportunity and responsibility to take action to fix this deadly problem — yet failed to do so. The fault here lies squarely with GM,” the pair said.

They acknowledged the “report correctly identifies a number of key opportunities where NHTSA officials could have acted to recall the defective GM vehicles. NHTSA has rightly been criticized for these missed opportunities.”

The Democrats also criticized Republicans for not moving faster on legislation. “Going forward, our top priority is meaningful congressional action to help make the driving public safer. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2014 would provide NHTSA with more resources, hold the agency to a higher standard of accountability, and make vehicle data and agency actions more transparent so that safety problems could be identified and rectified quickly. But Republicans have not acted on this or any auto safety legislation,” they said. “There is still time to improve auto safety in this country and to demand more from both car companies and regulators. Republicans should act quickly to pass legislation that solves the auto safety problems they identified in their report.”

In July, Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said he planned to introduce auto safety legislation.

"We've got to figure out what happened. We're going to come back, I think, with legislation later on maybe this year, maybe early next year — once we get enough," Upton told WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo. "What went wrong? Why were the dots not connected?"

In a statement Monday, Upton said he wasn’t decided on introducing legislation.

"We'll keep looking for answers, and keep working toward solutions – whether it means changing our laws or pressing for change at the companies that follow them and the agencies that enforce them – but we know for sure that NHTSA was part of the problem and is going to have to be part of the solution,” Upton said.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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