GM axes 15 employees over botched recall


General Motors CEO Mary Barra

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WARREN, Mich. — The delayed recall by General Motors that led to the deaths of at least 13 people was due to both the misconduct of about 20 employees, as well as “a pattern of incompetence and neglect” throughout the company, according to an internal probe of the recall released Thursday.

GM CEO Mary Barra announced that 15 employees have been dismissed from the company and five more have been disciplined in the wake of the three-month probe by former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas.

Barra said some were dismissed due to misconduct or incompetence, while others simply did not do enough to fix the problem. The names and jobs of those dismissed were not disclosed.

Barra said that she was deeply saddened and disturbed reading Valukas’ report.

“It represents a fundamental failure to meet the basic needs of these customers,” she said about the findings of the report. “We simply didn’t do our jobs. We failed these customers,”

GM admitted in February that its engineers first discovered the problem with the ignition switch as early as 2004, but it did not recall the 2.6 million cars affected until earlier this year. The faulty ignition switch made the cars prone to shutting off while on the road, disabling the airbags, power steering and anti-lock brakes.

GM estimates 13 people died as a result of the flawed ignition switch. But the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), other safety experts and families of people killed in recalled cars have said that number doesn’t include all the victims who should be counted.

The company faced two days of grueling Congressional hearings in April and agreed to a $35 million fine from safety regulators. It is the subject of a criminal probe. Congress and NHTSA are continuing their investigations, and the company faces wrongful death lawsuits from victims’ families.

Barra, who became CEO in January, has said she had to wait until Valukas’ probe was completed before she could answer many of the questions posed by lawmakers. She is due to brief lawmakers by phone on the results ahead of the report’s release.

The company, on Valukas’ advice, has already placed two engineers on paid leave in what Barra referred to as an “interim step.”

One of the engineers, who worked on the ignition switch, was accused by lawmakers of lying during a deposition in a wrongful death lawsuit. Barra conceded in response to questions that it appeared he was lying, but she said she wanted to wait for Valukas’ report.

Barra admitted in testimony before Congress that GM was wrong not to order the recall much earlier, and she has apologized repeatedly for the delay.

The recall has prompted a change in GM’s process for deciding when to order recalls and has prompted nearly 16 million recalls worldwide this year — a record for the company. GM has said it will cost about $1.7 billion to make the repairs on all those recalls.

GM tapped Valukas to lead its own investigation into the recall delays in March, and he vowed he would conduct a thorough and independent probe into the delays. A former U.S. Attorney, he is best known as the court-appointed investigator that looked into the causes of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.

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