WH: 'Critical' to get to the bottom of GM recall failure

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday it is "critical to get to the bottom of what happened" with General Motors's recall of 1.6 million vehicles.

GM CEO Mary Barra has been criticized by lawmakers in both parties and in both chambers for GM's delays in issuing a recall of its faulty ignition switches, which have been linked to 13 deaths so far.

The company is accused of purposely delaying a recall for as long as a decade in an attempt to avoid the costs that are associated with fixing the defective ignition parts, which have been found to cause cars to shut off abruptly or disable their airbags.

Speaking with reporters during a flight to Ypsilanti, Mich., with President Obama, Earnest said the president was interested in determining the cause of GM's failure to issue recalls of its cars going back as far as 2004 until February of this year.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost loved ones in these tragic accidents," Earnest said. "It’s critical we get to the bottom of what happened here and what can be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also come under criticism this week from lawmakers for failing to properly oversee GM's handling of the auto recall.

The highway safety agency told lawmakers during a pair of hearings this week that GM did not provide enough accurate information for it to have compelled the company to issue a recall earlier than February.

Republicans have pointed out that, until recently, the federal government owned a large portion of GM's shares as a result of the 2008-2009 auto bailouts that were championed by Obama.