NHTSA chief: No decision yet on continuing GM oversight

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says he hasn’t decided whether to extend General Motors’ mandatory monthly meetings and sweeping disclosures to the safety agency under a consent decree signed last year.

In May 2014, the Detroit automaker agreed to the decree and pay a record $35 million civil penalty for delaying a recall of 2.6 million older cars for ignition switch defects that are now linked to 97 deaths and more than 175 injuries.

Under the agreement, GM must disclose for one year all possible safety problems to NHTSA and meet with the agency on a monthly basis, providing significant disclosure of safety issues — even possible ones. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind can opt to extend those monthly GM meetings and require disclosures for up to another two years.

In a Detroit News interview Tuesday, Rosekind said a decision on whether to extend the monthly meetings is being discussed. Rosekind praised the GM-NHTSA consent agreement as a creative response, which has been used by the agency in other enforcement actions.

Last week, Rosekind was in Detroit and met with GM CEO Mary Barra and other top senior managers for more than two hours. GM gave NHTSA a detailed presentation about how it has improved its safety procedures and personnel. “There’s a lot of change,” Rosekind said. “I was very pleased to see how forthcoming they were about all of the safety changes that they have made. When we asked questions or made suggestions, they were very forthcoming.”

GM spokesman Jim Cain said Tuesday the automaker has been very cooperative with the government: “We have fully complied with the terms of the consent order. More importantly, we have used our monthly meetings with NHTSA to foster a relationship that’s candid, transparent and totally focused on the safety of our customers. We’ve come a long way and we fully intend to build on this progress.”

GM agreed to work with NHTSA on internal recommendations to improve its safety reviews. It also agreed to meet with NHTSA on a monthly basis for one year to discuss GM’s implementation of any recommendations with GM’s vice president of global vehicle safety, Jeff Boyer, attending the meetings. Often over the last year, Boyer has met with NHTSA more than once a month.

Under the agreement, GM must also discuss on a monthly basis all new technical service bulletins or other dealer communications, as well as its decision-making associated with safety-related or high-frequency warranty claims or safety-related field reports. GM must currently provide provide NHTSA every month “with a written list of every safety-related issue concerning vehicles already in the fleet that is under consideration by any GM Product Investigator or otherwise under consideration by GM’s Global Vehicle Safety organization.”

In the aftermath of the recall crisis and congressional hearings, the automaker hired dozens of new safety engineers, as Barra reorganized GM’s safety organization. After a scathing internal report was submitted, she fired 15 and disciplined five employees. Last year, GM recalled a record-setting 30 million vehicles worldwide in 84 recall campaigns. The number of vehicles called back this year by GM has fallen sharply as the automaker has worked to identify problems earlier.

GM faces ongong investigations by the Justice Department, 50 state attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission, along with Transport Canada. GM created a compensation fund administered by Ken Feinberg that has approved compensation for 97 deaths and 179 injuries. GM has paid $208 million through March 31 and expects to spend $550 million on compensation claims. The fund hopes to complete its review of outstanding claims by the end of July.

In announcing the agreement in May 2014, NHTSA offered a scathing review of GM’s approach to safety, citing a 2008 presentation that encouraged employees in communications to be factual but “not fantastic” in writing about problems, including not using the words like “defect,” “dangerous” and “safety related.”


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