Overseer of BP fund gets his hands dirty

By Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Write
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 6:36 PM

In June, President Obama tapped lawyer Kenneth R. Feinberg, 64, to oversee the $20 billion account funded by BP to compensate victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill, making him the nation's most famous mediator.

Every week, Feinberg leaves his Pennsylvania Avenue office, where the walls are adorned with dozens of pictures and news articles chronicling his work, to spend time with fishermen and others who make their living off the coastal waters.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, the Brockton, Mass., native, who also oversaw the government's Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, talked about the task ahead as he wraps up emergency claim payments and moves on to making final payments to victims. Excerpts follow:

Have you met one-on-one with people who were affected by the spill?

I've sat down personally with hundreds of people. I've had town hall meetings throughout the gulf with thousands of people. You can't do this from Washington. You have to go down there, and that's what I've been doing.

Why have the claims skyrocketed in the past two weeks?

People are getting paid. The payments are generous. People are saying, "Let's file a claim; we might get paid too." We don't know yet how many of them are legitimate.

What problems are you experiencing with processing emergency claims?

There are 25,000 claims with absolutely no documentation. Thousands of them say things like, "My neighbor got paid; pay me too." Or they say, "I fish off the gulf to eat. Send me grocery money." There are 50,000 of them with woefully inadequate documentation.

What was wrong with the BP claim centers? Why did they need to be replaced by your operation?

The BP claim centers served their purpose. It was an emergency bandage approach. Sometimes it went to the right people; sometime it went to the wrong people. I know of situations where they paid people who were in desperate straits. I've seen in many cases BP paid claimants and the payments appear to be fraudulent.

When it comes to final payments, you are counseling people to take the money. Some are suspicious of whether you are looking out for their best interests, since BP is paying your firm [Feinberg Rozen LLP] $850,000 a month to run the program. What do you say?

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