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October 1, 2014

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Heller cites ‘corporate incompetence’ at hearing over GM failures

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., questions General Motors CEO Mary Barra on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 2, 2014, before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee.

Sen. Dean Heller blasted what he called “corporate incompetence” at yet another congressional hearing examining how General Motors sold cars that could lose power at any moment, a fault linked to 13 deaths and thousands of crashes.

“General Motors failed to understand how its cars were built,” Heller said in his opening statements of a Senate subcommittee hearing today with top GM officials.

Here are some questions the Nevada Republican asked:

Can victims trust the compensation fund?

The first part of the hearing centered on how GM will compensate victims who died or were injured while driving a car with a faulty ignition switch that turned the car’s power off with a bump in the road or light knock of the keys.

Heller pointed out that the independent lawyer in charge of doling out compensation for victims and their families, Kenneth Feinberg, was harshly criticized for payments his company received in connection with the $20 billion compensation fund for the 2010 BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast.

“How do we know that you’ll be independent in this case and be accountable to the victims? Heller asked Feinberg, who also administered victims compensation funds after 9/11 and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Feinberg replied, “The only real way that you blunt criticism that is sure to come about my compensation is how fast you get money out the door to eligible claimants in a generous way.”

Is the maker of the faulty switch to blame?

Also testifying for the first time was Rodney O’Neal, the CEO of Delphi Automotive, a British company that made the faulty ignition switch, which he said was designed according to GM’s specifications.

“Was there any reason to believe that anyone in your company may have known” about the switch’s faults and just didn’t share the information? Heller asked.

O’Neal said an exhaustive investigation doesn’t leave him to believe so.

“Do you feel Delphi shoulders any responsibility of the 13 deaths?” Heller asked, turning to GM’s CEO, Mary Barra.

“We’re the company that’s responsible,” she replied.

GM’s fourth hearing on Capitol Hill about the faulty ignition switch and subsequent recalls produced lofty promises.

“We want to stand as the company that stands as the industry standard of safety,” Barra testified.

But it didn’t dampen lawmakers’ criticism of the company.

“This is one of the darkest chapters in the history of General Motors” Heller said.

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