(USA TODAY) - General Motors CEO Mary Barra, in remarks prepared for a House subcommittee investigation into a GM recall of 2.53 million small cars, says: "Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that (small-car) program, but I can tell you that we will find out."

When the switches fail, they shut off power to airbags. That fault has been linked by GM to 12 deaths in the U.S. and one in Canada.

GM first knew the switches could be a problem in 2001, during development of the 2003 Saturn Ion. It showed up again in 2004 during final phases of development of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, according to a chronology GM filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The switch design was modified it 2006, but the new component wasn't assigned a new part number -- violating GM procedures and, if it was part of a cover-up of a safety problem, possibly federal law. And the cars weren't recalled them.

Because of the part number issue, GM hasn't been able to accurately track which of its small cars have the safer switch. That lead to a recall expansion Friday, adding 824,000 vehicles.

Barra promises the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight, "When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators, and with our customers."

She said in an interview March 18 that the automaker deliberately separates the technical experts who probe possible flaws from executives who ultimately must decide whether to issue a recall.

But, she notes in the remarks, "As soon as l learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed. We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now and in the future. Today's GM will do the right thing."

As she and other GM executives have done repeatedly since the initial recall was announed in February, she offers, "my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry."

She notes that GM has hired former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas "to conduct a thorough and unimpeded investigation of the actions of General Motors. He has free rein to go where the facts take him,regardless of the outcome."

What else she says in her prepared testimony, scheduled to be delivered at 2 p.m. Tuesday:

"The facts will be the facts. Once they are in, my management team and I will use his findings to help assure this does not happen again.

"We will hold ourselves fullyaccountable.However, I want to stress that I'm not waiting for his results to make changes.I've named a new vice president for Global Vehicle Safety, Jeff Boyer. This is a first for GM.

"Jeff's first priority is to quickly identify and resolve any and all product safety issues. He is not taking on this task alone. I stand with him. My senior management team stands with him. And we will welcome input from outside GM — from you, from NHTSA, from Mr. Valukas' findings, from our customers, from our dealers, and from our current and former employees.

"This latest round of recalls demonstrates just how serious we are about the way we will do things at the new GM. We identified these issues. We brought them forward and we are fixing them. I have asked our team to keep stressing the system at GM and work with one thing in mind — our customers and their safety are at the center of everything we do."

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