Senate Panel Approves Auto Industry Whistleblower Program

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Senate Panel Approves Auto Industry Whistleblower Program

Senate Panel Approves Auto Industry Whistleblower Program

On Thursday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously backed legislation that would offer whistleblower incentives to employees in the automobile industry. Reuters reports that all 12 Republican and Democrat members voted in favor of the legislation, sending it to the floor of the Senate. The measure follows recent safety concerns with automakers, including defective General Motors Co ignition switches and Takata Corp air bag inflators.

There is no definitive vote date thus far, said an aide to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. If the full chamber votes in favor of the bill, it would then be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Like other whistleblower programs, the legislation would offer monetary incentives to employees who report wrongdoing. This bill would apply to employees and contractors for automakers, parts suppliers and car dealerships who report original information about product defects or violations to the U.S. Transportation Department or Justice Department. Under the legislation, if their tip leads to federal enforcement action totaling more than $1 million, they would be entitled to receive up to 30 percent of those penalties.

The legislation comes up amidst two deadly auto product cases, Reuters reports. Last year, GM agreed to pay a $35 million fine for delayed reporting of an ignition switch defect. The problem was that the switch could slip out of the “run” position and into the “accessory” position unexpectedly while driving, cutting power to the engine and other vital functions. The defect has been linked to 379 death claims and thousands of injury claims.

“This legislation will be a powerful tool to help ensure that problems regarding known safety defects are promptly reported to safety regulators,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the committee’s Republican chairman.

Takata was recently hit with a $14,000-a-day fine for failing to fully cooperate with a probe of its air bag inflators. Six deaths and dozens of injuries have been linked to this issue.