The government's own safety cops are under attack for not noticing problems with General Motors' ignition switches and requiring GM to recall the cars sooner than its recall, and expansions, in February and March.
The acting head of NHTSA, however, says, NHTSA "did not find sufficient evidence of a possible safety defect or defect trend that would warrant opening a formal investigation."
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That assertion is from Acting Administrator David Friedman, in written testimony he will supply for the record Tuesday before making oral comments to a House subcommittee probing how GM and NHTSA have handled the matter.
The switches unexpectedly can switch out of the "run" position, shutting off the engine and killing power to systems including air bags. GM has linked the problem to 12 U.S. deaths and one in Canada.
GM's own timeline shows it knew there was a problem in 2001, and again in 2004. A redesigned switch was approved in 2006, but kept the same part number as the previous component, making it nearly impossible to identify when cars began getting the safer assembly, or which version was used in dealership repairs.
"We know the agency examined the available information multiple times using consumer complaints, early warning data, special crash investigations, manufacturer information about how air bags function, and other tools," Friedman's written comments note.
The Department of Transportation's inspector General is auditing NHTSA's performance during the period of the recall, to see if it should have done things differently.
NHTSA is probing whether it reported the safety problem quickly enough. If not, the agency could fine GM as much as $35 million.
Friedman's prepared testimony: