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General Motors Inquiry Cites Years of Negligence Regarding Fatal Defect

A sweeping internal investigation of General Motors released Thursday condemned the company for its decade-long failure to fix a deadly safety defect, one that led to “devastating consequences,” including at least 13 deaths.

The report, written by former U.S. attorney Anton R. Valukas, set off the dismissal of 15 GM employees, including a vice president for regulatory affairs and a senior lawyer responsible for product liability cases, and forced broad changes in how the company handles vehicle safety.

The report illustrates in unsparing detail how employees across departments neglected for years to repair a defect and issue a recall, despite a mountain of evidence that lives were at risk.

“Although everyone had responsibility to fix the problem, nobody took responsibility,” Valukas wrote.

A chastened Mary T. Barra, GM’s chief executive, described the report as “deeply troubling” in a meeting with more than 1,000 employees at the company’s sprawling technical center in the Detroit suburb of Warren.

The report offered an extraordinary window into a company where employees avoided responsibility with a “GM salute” — arms crossed and pointing fingers at others — and the “GM nod,” which Barra described in the report as “the nod as an empty gesture.” The report also lays bare a bureaucracy that appeared to stun Valukas. “The Cobalt ignition switch passed through an astonishing number of committees,” he wrote. “But determining the identity of any actual decision-maker was impenetrable.”

The investigation also documents how GM kept many internal discussions secret because of legal ramifications. “A number of GM employees reported they did not take notes at all at critical safety meetings because they believed GM lawyers did not want notes taken,” the report said.

The defective switch — a tiny part hidden inside the steering column of the recalled vehicles — has already taken an immense toll on the company’s finances and reputation.

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