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GM CEO Promises Culture Change, Says 'Wish I Had Known' About Problems

Steve Fecht for General Motors(DETROIT) -- General Motors CEO Mary Barra in a press conference Thursday said, "I wish I had known" about the ignition switch problems, adding later "I wish I could figure out why" engineers didn't connect the dots on the different problems that led to the deaths of at least 13 people.

"I want it known that this recall issue isn't merely just an engineering, or a manufacturing or a legal problem," she said. "It represents a fundamental failure to meet the basic needs of these customers."

Barra, the first woman to head a major global automaker, said 15 GM staff, most of them in senior positions were fired as a result of the internal investigation.   

"Fifteen individuals who we determined to have acted inappropriately are no longer with the company," she said, adding that those decisions were made with her team.

Another five employees were disciplined for inaction.

While Barra and other GM execs at the press conference would not specifically answer questions about compensation for victims, Barra did say that "with these [recalled] vehicles, we simply didn't do our job," and that the company "failed these customers."

"Consistent with our priority to do the right thing for those that were harmed, we will be implementing a compensation program for those who lost loved ones or who have suffered serious injuries," Barra said, saying that for those who were harmed, GM "will do the right thing."

Barra drilled home the point that "serious mistakes" were made, but there is now a culture change underway at the company.

She would not comment on what criminal charges the company may face, saying instead that they are cooperating with Congress and the Department of Justice.  Barra is expected to head to Congress for another hearing this summer.  Congressional leaders have also said that they will ask the author of Thursday's internal report, Anton Valukas to testify.

Barra said Thursday that the internal report shows Valukas found there was no cover up or trade off between safety and quality, but there was instead "a pattern of incompetence and neglect."

"While everyone who was engaged on the ignition switch issue had the responsibility to fix it, no one took responsibility," said Barra.

GM is sticking by its policy of not naming the 13 people who died in crashes related to ignition switch problems, they also would not say if the number of victims would go up, directing all questions to Ken Feinberg, an attorney retained by GM to act as a consultant on the recalls. Feinberg is expected to start accepting victims claims on Aug. 1, according to GM.

Saying that "this never should have happened," and calling the ignition issues "unacceptable," Barra said she never wants to put the events behind her, but wants to "keep this painful experience permanently in our collective memories."

"I don't want to forget what happened because I, and I know you, never want this to happen again," she said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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