By Nathan Bomey
Detroit Free Press
General Motors CEO Mary Barra acknowledged in testimony this week that an engineer who oversaw the defective ignition switch at the center of a recall may have lied under oath about his role in fixing the problem.
Ray DeGiorgio, the GM ignition-switch engineer, came under scrutiny during Barra’s second day of congressional testimony Wednesday about the recall, with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill accusing him of committing perjury “repeatedly under oath.”
“You know that he lied under oath,” said McCaskill, D-Mo.
Barra acknowledged a discrepancy.
“The data that’s been put in front of me indicates that, but I’m waiting for the full investigation. I want to be fair,” Barra said.
DeGiorgio, who is still working for GM, could not be reached by phone. He did not respond by press time to a message left by a reporter who went to his metro Detroit home.
At issue is DeGiorgio’s April 29, 2013, deposition in a Georgia lawsuit that GM has since settled. In that deposition, DeGiorgio discussed his involvement in the ignition switch, which is now blamed for at least 31 crashes and 13 deaths.
The lawsuit was filed by the family of Brooke Melton, a young woman who was killed in a 2010 crash involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. The family’s lawyer, Lance Cooper, asked DeGiorgio whether he had ever “signed a work order or a change authorization” to approve a redesigned ignition switch.
“I don’t recall ever authorizing such a change, but it would definitely have been picked up in our engineering change systems of such a work order,” DeGiorgio said, according to a transcript of the deposition.
But a document released by House Democrats showed DeGiorgio signed off on the new ignition switch in April 2006. GM, however, did not change the part number of the switch, which made it difficult for dealers and parts distributors to distinguish the new switches from the old.
Barra acknowledged several times Wednesday that failing to change the number of a redesigned part was “wrong” and “totally unacceptable.”
In his deposition last spring, DeGiorgio also testified he was “not aware” the ignition switch could be toggled into “accessory” position while the vehicle was still running, cutting power to other electrical systems, including air bags.
GM has recalled more than 2.5 million small cars from the 2003 through 2010 model years, including the Cobalt — made in Lords-town — Chevrolet HHR and Saturn Ion.
But the automaker’s failure to order a recall after initially discovering a problem more than a decade ago has prompted a slew of lawsuits and government investigations, including a Justice Department probe that could lead to criminal penalties.
McCaskill said DeGiorgio should be fired.
“It is hard for me to imagine you would want him anywhere near engineering anything at General Motors under these circumstances,” she said.