Following a report Wednesday night in the New York Times, a spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said staff investigators had met with Ray DeGiorgio, who was suspended by GM on April 10, as well as other company employees.
"Over the course of our investigation our staff has met with DeGiorgio and other current and former company officials," said committee spokeswoman Charlotte Baker. "We are continuing to conduct interviews." She declined to provide any other details.
Interviews such as those with DeGiorgio often come just in advance of congressional hearings, but Baker said there are no hearings on the GM recall currently scheduled. An Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing April 1 with GM CEO Mary Barra, who also testified on April 2 before a Senate Consumer Protection subcommittee.
It is possible both panels will have additional hearings in the weeks to come, with an internal GM report from former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas on what happened expected to be completed soon.
DeGiorgio and another GM engineer, Gary Altman, were suspended with pay in April as the company's internal investigation continued. Congressional investigators want to know why it took until this February for GM to begin recalling affected Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars when there were warning signs of an ignition switch defect dating to 2001.
Because of the defect, a driver can inadvertently jostle the key out of "run" position, potentially cutting power to steering and brake assist, air bags and other systems. GM had maintained that it only learned of the problem late last year but two weeks ago was fined a record $35 million by federal regulators for not acting more quickly. Those regulators noted reports from suppliers as e! arly as 2009 indicating airbags could be disabled if the power to the car was inadvertently turned off.
DeGiorgio was a lead engineer on the switches. As was revealed in earlier hearings, he apparently signed off on a change to the ignition switch in 2006 that largely corrected the shutoff problem in early model vehicles. But the part number was never changed -- a move which could have led to a recall -- and GM did not notify federal regulators.
Last year, in a court case brought by the family of a Georgia woman who died, DeGiorgio said he didn't know about any changes which had been made to the part.
The New York Times said an unnamed House staff aide reported that during an interview on May 19 DeGiorgio, 61, seemed "genuinely upset" about the people who died and at his own failure to connect the ignition switch issue with air bag nondeployment earlier.
"He came across as if he was just overburdened and just missed it," the Times quoted the aide as saying. DeGiorgio, who has not spoken publicly about the recall, remains suspended with pay.
He apparently told investigators that he had forgotten about the upgrade ordered for the switch in 2006 when he was deposed by lawyer Lance Cooper last year.