Obama ‘pay czar' Kenneth Feinberg to oversee fund for victims of BP oil spill

Kenneth Feinberg will work to ensure claims are administered fairly.
Kenneth Feinberg will work to ensure claims are administered fairly. (Charles Dharapak/associated Press)
By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kenneth R. Feinberg earned his third two-year term as president of the board of trustees of the Washington National Opera last month, maintaining a leadership role at the cash-strapped institution.

But his next act will prove more daunting: President Obama tapped him Wednesday to oversee an account funded by BP to compensate victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill.

"I am confident he will ensure that claims are administered as quickly, fairly and transparently as possible," Obama said of Feinberg.

Feinberg has emerged as the go-to guy for some of the nation's most emotional and legally challenging questions. He put a value on the footage of John F. Kennedy's assassination, mediated disputes about the use of Agent Orange, and handled the compensation for families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Virginia Tech shootings. Obama also tapped him to review executive pay.

The son of a tire salesman and bookkeeper from Brockton, Mass., Feinberg graduated from the University of Massachusetts and New York University Law School. He acted in college, briefly considered a theatrical career and teaches an opera course at the Levine School.

Feinberg once clerked for New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Stanley H. Fuld, served as chief of staff to then-Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and in 1984 helped settle a dispute between Vietnam War veterans and chemical companies that produced Agent Orange. (Critics argued that he earned his paycheck long before the veterans were paid.)

"That one case, Agent Orange, changed my entire professional career," Feinberg told The Washington Post in January. He established a law firm specializing in dispute resolution. Among other cases, he helped determine that the heirs of Abraham Zapruder should be paid $16 million for his grainy film of President Kennedy's assassination.

Compelled by the Sept. 11 attacks, he volunteered to oversee the victims compensation fund Congress established, embarking on a 33-month effort that included public forums and one-on-one meetings with victims' families.

Feinberg led a similar fund in 2007 after the Virginia Tech shootings and for the past year he has served as the Obama administration's "special master for compensation" (or "pay czar"), tasked with limiting the salaries of executives at automobile companies and banks that received government bailouts.

He has reviewed executive compensation plans at more than 400 financial institutions that received Troubled Assets Relief Program money and in March announced pay cuts for 119 executives at American International Group, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC and Chrysler Financial -- the five firms that received considerable assistance from the government.

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