We’ve got whiplash from trying to follow all the blame-pointing going on in Washington over General Motors’ ignition switch scandal.
A report from the House Energy and Commerce majority staff (Republican) blasted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its failure to discover defects in the switches that lead to at least 19 deaths. In the report, the ability of NHTSA staff to utilize analytic software and display technical competence was called into question, resulting in “inexcusable” errors.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are having none of it. Top panel Democrat Henry A. Waxman (D-California) and Rep. Diane DeGette (D-Colorado), who oversees NHTSA, say that “The report almost completely ignores the role played by GM… [who] allowed the defective switch to be installed in these vehicles; for over a decade, the company had the opportunity and responsibility to take action to fix this deadly problem — yet failed to do so.” They went on to criticize House Republicans for being slow to act on any relevant legislature which could help prevent similar tragedies in the future, such as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2014.
The duo did concede that to the report’s credit, several junctures where NHTSA had the opportunity to act and failed to do so are correctly outlined. Yet the blame, they believe, still “lies squarely with GM.”
The nature of the back-and-forth scapegoating displayed here isn’t beyond comprehension; a corporation’s first legal obligation is to its shareholders’ pocket books, making the uncorrected ignition switch defect a historical replay of Ford’s exploding Pinto scandal in the 1970s. House Democrats recognize this, but it’s generally accepted that members of the Republican party will make an example of a government agency long before attributing blame that might harm an American corporation.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan, and yes, Kate Upton’s uncle) has said that he plans to introduce auto safety legislation soon this year or next. However, according to a statement last Monday, he is still undecided on that point. We may see lots more finger-pointing before this is through.