General Motors puts two engineers on paid leave in wake of faulty ignition switch recall

(WXYZ) - 7 Action News has learned that the two General Motors engineers who have been put on paid leave are Ray DeGiorgio and Gary Altman, as an outside attorney investigates why the company took more than a decade to recall millions of small cars for an ignition switch problem.

The company says in a statement Thursday that the action was taken after a briefing from former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas. He has been hired to figure out why GM was so slow to recall the cars.
CEO Mary Barra says the move is an interim step as GM tries to find out what happened. This comes a week after U.S. Senate and House subcommittee members grilled Barra about GM’s deadly ignition defect. Barra was lambasted by senators who wanted to know why one of the GM engineers—who seemed to conceal the defect—was still employed.

“I for the life of me can’t understand why he still has his job,” said Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) during Barra’s testimony in front of the U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.

DeGiorgio is a 60-year-old General Motors Engineer from Commerce Township, who until his suspension was working at the automaker’s Warren Technical Center.

DeGiorgio’s work on the ignition switch for the 2005 Chevy Cobalt has put him in the glare of the national spotlight as GM scrambles to recall 2.6 million small cars. The faulty ignition switches can cause the cars to suddenly shut off, and are now linked to at least 13 deaths.

Altman was the program engineering manager on the Chevy Cobalt, the vehicle 29-year-old Brooke Melton was driving in 2010. Her car suddenly shut off, causing her to lose control and strike another vehicle.  She died on her birthday. In a lawsuit her family filed against GM, Altman acknowledged he and the company knew about the defect for years. 

Congressional investigators asked Barra why changes were made to the switches, but they were kept under the same part number – a move that some now believe was done to keep the design flaws hidden.

Last April, DeGiorgio said under oath in a deposition that he wasn’t aware of design changes made to the switches after GM received reports of problems years ago -- yet Senator McCaskill on Wednesday revealed a document that shows DeGiorgio is the one who signed off on the change.

“So, he has not been fired,” asked McCaskill.
“No, he has not,” said Barra.
“Ok is he still working there every day,” asked McCaskill.
“Yes,” said Barra.
“And you know that he lied under oath,” demanded McCaskill.
“The data that’s been put in front of me indicates that but I’m waiting for the full investigation,” said Barra.
“Ok, let me help you here.  He said several times he had no idea these changes had been made.  Here is a document that he signed, under his name, Mr. Ray DeGiorgio.  He signed it on April 26, 2006 approving of the change.  Now, it is hard for me to imagine you would want him anywhere near engineering anything at General Motors under these circumstances,” said McCaskill.

The deposition was from a lawsuit brought by the parents of a young woman who died in a Chevy Cobalt crash.