Barra told the committee that GM soon plans to establish a plan to compensate crash victims and the families of those killed.
Ken Feinberg, the disaster compensation expert GM has hired to administer the plan, has been given “full authority to establish eligibility criteria for victims and determine compensation levels,” Barra said, adding there will not be a cap on the compensation fund.
GM expects Feinberg to begin accepting claims Aug. 1, she said.
GM fired 15 employees in connection with the Cobalt recall, including Ray DeGiorgio, the engineer who approved the car’s ignition switch even though it did not meet GM’s own specifications.
"It looks like a lot more than 15 people should have been terminated," Rep. Mike Burgess, R-Texas, said based on his reading of the Valukas report.
A weak spring in the switch allows the key to turn out of “run” mode while the car is moving, cutting the engine, power steering and airbags. GM has linked the defect to 54 crashes and 13 deaths. It has recalled 2.6 million cars for the problem since February.
GM says DeGiorgio also was responsible for the ignition switch in the 3.4 million more cars it recalled Monday, including the Chevrolet Impala, Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS. The company says it knows of eight injuries in six crashes that may be related to the problem, but no fatalities.
GM said it plans to “rework or replace” the keys in those vehicles, using a solution very similar to what it offered starting in 2005 to owners of the Cobalt and Saturn Ion. At that time, though, it divulged the solution only through a technical service bulletin sent to dealers, rather than by issuing a recall and publicly notifying all of its affected customers.
The solution involves putting a small plastic insert into the slot of the cars’ keys, which GM says will prevent a heavy key ring from pulling downward on the edge of the key and moving the ignition into “accessory” mode when the car experiences a jarring event, such as running over a pothole.
As part of the original recall announced in February, Barra said today that more than 400,000 replacement switches have been sent to dealers for repairs.
"The challenge is getting the customer to come in and get the vehicle repaired," she told members of the panel. "I can't be more proud of how our dealers are supporting the customer."
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.