WASHINGTON -- The dealership terminations by General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group will be audited by the inspector general for the U.S. Treasury Department's financial bailout, the inspector said in congressional testimony.
The audit will take place at the same time that dealer-rights negotiations are due to get under way, involving the two automakers, dealer groups, key lawmakers and the Obama administration's auto task force.
A separate audit likely will be conducted of Treasury's ownership and management of GM since the company emerged from bankruptcy.
Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for Treasury's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in December 2008.
In testimony delivered today before the Senate Banking Committee, Barofsky said his dealer audit “will examine the process used by General Motors and Chrysler to identify which automotive dealerships should be maintained or terminated.”
Many dealers have complained that the process was arbitrary and resulted in the closing of profitable stores.
GM and Chrysler say the terminations were carefully chosen to increase the automakers' prospects for restoring profit after bankruptcy.
Not clear yet
Barofsky did not say when the audit will be completed or whether his findings will be shared with the congressionally sponsored negotiations.
Chrysler has terminated 789 dealerships, or a quarter of its U.S. total, and GM has begun shuttering 1,350 stores by October 2010.
The settlement talks, which have not begun, were intended as an alternative to legislation that would reverse the dealer terminations. The legislation passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
Barofsky also said he will audit “governance issues when the U.S. government has obtained a large ownership interest in a particular institution.” The government holds a 60 percent stake in GM after investing more than $50 billion.
Barofsky's testimony didn't say specifically that he will audit GM.
This audit will examine “the extent of government involvement in management” of these companies, his testimony said. It also will look at risk management, monitoring, internal controls, performance measures and transparency at the companies.
Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor, can be fired only by the president, his spokeswoman said. He files periodic reports of his audits and investigations with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Congress.
Barofsky's office has 86 employees and plans to grow to 160, according to his testimony.