By Keith Laing - 04/01/14 04:42 PM EDT
General Motors has hired Washington attorney Ken Feinberg to lead its response to widespread recalls of mid-to-late 2000’s automobiles that has prompted a round of congressional investigations, GM CEO Mary Barra announced during a hearing Tuesday.
Feinberg is a specialist in corporate crisis compensation payments, overseeing payments to families of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2007 Virginia Tech University mass shooting and the 2010 BP oil spill.
GM’s chief Barra said Tuesday as she made the announcement about GM’s plans to respond to its 1.6 millions vehicles that were recalled because of problems with its ignition switches that she was “deeply sorry” for the 13 deaths that have been linked to the faulty part.
“That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends who lost their lives or were injured,” she continued. “I am deeply sorry."
Feinberg said in a statement after Barra’s announcement that he had been given a mandate from GM “to consider the options for dealing with issues surrounding the ignition switch matter, and to do so in an independent, balanced and objective manner based upon my prior experience.”
Lawmakers were sharply critical of GM’s handling of the recall Tuesday, telling Barra that the company waited too long to issue the notice of the problems with cars that were in some cases over a decade old.
“GM knew about this problem in 2001,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). “They were warned again and again over the next decade, but they did nothing.”
Barra said repeatedly that she was investigating what happened in the decade before she took control of GM, even as she apologized in her capacity as the Detroit-based automaker's current leader.
“This is an extraordinary situation. It involves vehicles we no longer make, but it came to light on my watch, so I'm responsible for resolving it,” she said. “When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.”
Barra added that she “cannot turn back the clock,” but she said she acted quickly since she took over the auto company in January.
“As soon as I learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation,” Barra told the panel. “We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed. We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now or in the future.”