Watchdog: Accountability

Gov't: GM missed deadline for faulty switch data

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DETROIT (AP) — A government safety agency is fining General Motors $7,000 a day, saying the company failed to fully respond its requests for information about a faulty ignition switch by an April 3 deadline.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a letter to GM on Tuesday that the company already owes $28,000 in fines, and they will accrue at $7,000 per day until it provides all the requested information.

In February, the agency began investigating whether GM was slow to provide information and respond to problems with the switch that has been linked to at least 13 deaths. GM has admitted knowing that the switch was defective at least a decade ago, but failed to start recalling 2.6 million compact cars worldwide until this year.

In a two-page letter to GM North America vice president and legal counsel Lucy Clark Dougherty, NHTSA's chief counsel, O. Kevin Vincent, said the company frequently stated that it did not respond to all the agency's requests because of an ongoing investigation of GM's actions by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas.

But Vincent objected, saying GM's reasoning wasn't valid. "Mr. Valukas' investigation is irrelevant to GM's legal obligation to timely respond to the Special Order and fully cooperate with NHTSA," he wrote.

GM said in a statement that it will keep providing responses as soon as they are available. "We will do so with a goal of being accurate as well as timely," the statement said, giving no indication of when GM would fully comply.

Vincent did acknowledge that the safety agency had agreed to extend the deadline on certain technical questions, but criticized GM for failing to answer questions that weren't technical in nature. He said there were several unanswered questions about the approval of changes in the suspect ignition switch.

NHTSA told GM that it was aware of GM's approval of a design change on April 26, 2007, and the agency asked the company if there were any other changes. But Vincent's letter said GM did not answer the questions.

"It is deeply troubling that two months after recalling the vehicles, GM is unwilling or unable to tell NHTSA whether the design of the switch changed at any other time," Vincent wrote.

In a 27-page "Special Order" sent to GM on March 4, NHTSA demanded pictures, memos, electronic communications, engineering drawings and other data to answer 107 questions. The reply, which must be signed under oath by a company officer, was due last Thursday.

GM said it has "worked tirelessly" to respond to NHTSA and has fully cooperated with the agency. The company said it has produced nearly 21,000 documents totaling over 271,000 pages. The documents came from a production process that spans a decade and more than 5 million documents, GM said.

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Jonathan Fahey contributed to this report from New York.

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