WASHINGTON -- General Motors thought it was through with this town.
It was only December when then-CEO Dan Akerson came to Washington to give a speech marking GM’s exit from partial government ownership, which for executives seemed to mark the end of five turbulent years as a target on Capitol Hill.
“The end of the ‘Government Motors’ era has cleared the runway for the team to soar,” Akerson said, a week after naming Mary Barra as his successor. “And soar we will, because we are building a GM that America can be proud of.”
The runway was cleared, all right. But the plane is now headed back to Washington, and lawmakers don’t seem too proud of what GM built.
Two committees -- one in the U.S. House, one in the U.S. Senate -- plan to hold hearings in the coming weeks to examine why it took GM a decade to fix an ignition switch defect that affected 1.6 million cars worldwide. According to GM, the glitch deactivated the airbags in car crashes that killed at least a dozen people.
As GM learned the last time around, Capitol Hill is a risky setting. When lawmakers are campaigning for office and crafting sound bites for the nightly news (not to mention Twitter), they’re liable to say anything to make a point. GM will be lucky to finish its sentences.
And even before the hearings, GM will be on the hot seat. More information about the company’s response to the ignition switch glitch will be dribbling out in the next few weeks. On Tuesday, March 18, GM faces a deadline to brief U.S. House committee staff. Full responses to a sheaf of questions from the committee are due March 25. And April 3 is the deadline for responding to a 107-question data request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.