* No GM, Delphi witnesses ruled out -Chairman Upton
* Sen. McCaskill says heavy focus on NHTSA too
* Two senators offer bill to force more industry reporting
* Reuters/Ipsos poll: 67 pct want tougher U.S. auto
(Recasts with Upton, McCaskill comments on possible additional
witnesses, adds poll results)
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, March 25 U.S. lawmakers are
considering calling on former General Motors Co
executives and employees from parts supplier Delphi Automotive
to testify as they cast a wide net in their probe of
GM's recall of 1.6 million vehicles with potentially lethal
"We're not ruling anything out," House Energy and Commerce
Committee Chairman Fred Upton told Reuters when asked if his
committee would elicit testimony from former GM officials,
including ex-CEOs, and Delphi officials who may have been
directly involved in reviewing the problem that first arose in
On April 1, the current head of GM, CEO Mary Barra, is
scheduled to testify at the maiden congressional hearing on the
automaker's troubled cars, which have been linked to 12 deaths.
The 1.6 million recalled cars include 2005-07 Chevrolet
Cobalts and Pontiac G5s, 2003-07 Saturn Ions and other models.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Acting
Administrator David Friedman is also expected to be at the House
The hearings come as a new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows
Americans want tougher federal regulation of the automobile
The poll, conducted March 21-25, found that 67 percent of
those surveyed said they either strongly agreed or somewhat
agreed that the federal government needed to strengthen auto
GM and NHTSA were up against a Tuesday deadline for
providing Upton's committee with a raft of information on how it
responded, or failed to respond, to warnings that the ignition
switches could unexpectedly turn off vehicle engines and safety
equipment while the cars were operating.
"We'll see where Tuesday's (April 1) hearing takes us"
before deciding next steps, Upton said.
Senator Claire McCaskill, who chairs a Commerce subcommittee
that also intends to hold GM hearings in early April, told
Reuters that "anything is possible" in regard to witnesses who
could be called to testify, including former GM officials.
Besides the congressional investigation, the U.S. Department
of Justice is conducting a criminal probe of GM officials, which
could complicate the ability of some to testify before Congress.
FOCUS NOT JUST ON GM
McCaskill made it clear that federal regulators will be
closely grilled in upcoming hearings.
"One of my biggest focuses is on NHTSA," McCaskill said.
"What did they know, when did they know it, why didn't they
know more?" she added.
How deeply Congress probes GM and NHTSA could depend in part
on the interest level of the American public, according to
consumer safety advocates.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that auto recalls register on
consumers' radar screens and that many remember safety problems
that are a few years old.
Forty-six percent said they knew about a major vehicle
recall by GM, while 38 percent were aware of one by Toyota,
which suffered sudden, unintended acceleration problems that
were the subject of congressional hearings in 2010.
The poll, with a sample of 1,175 Americans aged 18 and
older, found that 29 percent said they were less likely to buy a
GM car, with 75 percent of that group citing safety concerns.
Amid the growing scrutiny by Congress of GM, two senators on
Tuesday offered legislation aimed at improving the auto
industry's reporting of safety problems.
Democratic senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and
Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced a bill that would
require automobile manufacturers to provide more information
about fatal accidents involving their vehicles and better public
access to those reports.
Markey said a legislative fix was necessary after "a massive
information breakdown at NHTSA has led to deadly vehicle
breakdowns on our roads."
In 2000, Congress passed a law requiring an early warning
reporting system for NHTSA to catch safety defects.
The two senators want to beef up that law by requiring
automakers and auto equipment manufacturers to automatically
submit accident reports and other documents that alert them to
fatalities involving their equipment.
The information would have to be publicly released, unless
it is exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.
Currently, the industry documents are provided to NHTSA if
the federal agency requests them and are not automatically made
public unless requested under FOIA, the senators said.
"Timely information can save lives when it reveals lethal
defects," Blumenthal said.
(Editing by Stephen Powell and Matthew Lewis)