Updated: April 10, 2014 7:58AM
DETROIT — General Motors has placed two engineers on paid leave as an outside attorney investigates why the company took more than a decade to recall millions of small cars for an ignition switch problem.
The action was taken after a briefing from former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, whom GM has hired to figure out why the company was so slow to recall the cars. GM says at least 13 people have been killed in crashes linked to the problem, but family members of those who died say the death toll is much higher.
GM spokesman Greg Martin would not identify the engineers. CEO Mary Barra called the move an interim step as the company tries to find out what happened, according to the statement.
GM is recalling 2.6 million compact cars worldwide, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, to replace the switches.
During congressional hearings on the matter last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill accused one GM engineer of a cover-up. Ray DeGiorgio, the lead switch engineer on the Cobalt, said in a deposition last year for a lawsuit against GM that he never approved a change to the ignition switch. But McCaskill produced a document from GM’s switch supplier that showed DeGiorgio signed off on a replacement, but with the same part number. Failing to change a part number makes the part harder to track.
“There is no reason to keep the same part number unless you’re trying to hide the fact that you’ve got a defective switch out there that in fact ended up killing a number of people on our highways,” the Democrat McCaskill said on a Sunday television news show.
During the hearings, Barra called the failure to change the part number “unacceptable.” She said at the time that the company has not fired any employees in connection with the recall. But she said if inappropriate decisions were made, GM will take action, including firing those involved.
GM would not make DeGiorgio available for an interview. He did not return telephone messages left by The Associated Press.