In testimony before a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel investigating why the automaker waited years to fix the vehicles, Barra said she has asked former U.S. attorney Anton “Tony” Valukas to help figure that out.
Previously Valukas investigated the collapse of the Lehman Bros. financial services firm in 2008.
Barra also issued yet another apology for GM's failure to fix the problem years earlier. She conceded that company officials knew of issues with the faulty ignition switches behind the crashes and deaths for more than a decade.
Barra said she found the automaker's worries about the cost to fix defective cars "disturbing." Those concerns were detailed in documents obtained by the House committee.
“That is not acceptable,” Barra said. “Today, if there is safety issue ... if we know that there is a safety defect on our vehicles, we don’t look at the cost but at the speed at which we can fix the problem.”
Barra’s apologies notwithstanding, GM legally shed responsibility for crashes before the automaker's 2009 bankruptcy and federal bailout. The restructuring created a new company, which bought the assets of the old GM, but allowed it to shed its debts and legal liabilities.
But Barra, in more than two hours of testimony, hinted GM might compensate victims and their families in connection with recall-related accidents that took place before the bankruptcy.
"We do understand we have civic responsibilities as well as legal responsibilities," she said when asked about how the company would handle pre-bankruptcy crashes.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) asked if GM purposely withheld information about problems with the ignition switch and other safety issues when it was negotiating the terms of its bankruptcy and federal bailout in 2009.
Barra said she was not aware of any effort to hide information about potential liabilities, “but I can’t speak to every single person.”
Barra said the company has hired Kenneth Feinberg as a consultant to explore and evaluate options for the families of victims of accidents caused by the defective part.
“Mr. Feinberg is highly qualified, and is very experienced in the handling of matters such as this,” Barra said. “He brings expertise and objectivity to this effort, and will help us evaluate the situation and recommend the best path forward.”
“My mandate from the company is to consider the options for dealing with issues surrounding the ignition switch matter, and to do so in an independent, balanced and objective manner, based upon my prior experience,” Feinberg said.
Barra also told the panel that the automaker made “mistakes” in not recalling vehicles with a deadly flaw years ago.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) an industrial engineer, asked Barra why the company used an ignition switch that did not meet company specifications.
“Why in the world would a company with the stellar reputation of General Motors purchase a part that did not meet its own specifications?” he said.
Barra responded: “I want to know that as much as you do.”
When pressed on whether GM now would purchase parts that don’t meet specifications in the future, Barra said in some cases they do if the part meets safety, functionality and durability standards among others.