Ken Feinberg Named BP Oil Spill Escrow Pay Czar

Bailout manager to oversee fund distribution in wake of BP Oil Spill

June 16, 2010, 4:12 PM

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010— -- Are you embroiled in a dispute about pay? Maybe you're not getting the money you deserve? Or maybe someone else is getting more than they should?

Call Ken Feinberg, pay czar extraordinaire.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration revealed that Feinberg would take charge of a $20 billion escrow fund to compensate people and businesses harmed by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I'm confident he will assure that claims are administered as quickly, as fairly and as transparently as possible," President Obama said in a speech at the White House.

Another crisis, another compensation issue, another job for Feinberg. In a statement Feinberg said that was "honored by the President's confidence in me and will work tirelessly to provide prompt, appropriate compensation to all those victims of the disaster. I assure everybody that the Independent Claims Facility will be administered in a fair and impartial manner. Time is of the essence. I urge all those who have suffered financial loss as a result of the oil spill to file a claim as soon as possible. "

Years ago the Washington lawyer was tapped to chair the government's compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Then he doled out money to victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.

And just last year he was again enlisted by the government to crack down on executive pay at companies that received huge federal bailouts in the wake of the financial crisis.

For the Wall Street pay gig, the government even gave him quite a lofty title: Special Master for Compensation.

But it fits.

From his office just blocks from the White House, Feinberg took up the job with gusto. After joking that he might have to move to Pluto once he issued his pay rulings for the bailout recipients, Feinberg then proceeded to slash 2010 cash pay for the top 25 executives at five companies by 33 percent from 2009 levels.

Of course, no company received more bailout help -- or public backlash -- than insurance giant AIG. But Feinberg, showing the experience of years working on such matters, toed a fine line between empathizing with populist outrage and respecting the rules of the law.

When AIG last winter dished out $100 million in bonuses, Feinberg called the payments "outrageous" but acknowledged they were "legal."

"I don't think Wall Street as a general institution gets the message," Feinberg told ABC News in an interview at the Treasury Department in March. "I don't think in American history they've ever gotten the message."

Ken Feinberg Appointed Head of BP Oil Spill Escrow Fund

One needs look no further than the current populist backlash against BP for the massive oil spill in the Gulf to know that Feinberg will now have another tough job on his hands.

But nothing -- neither the BP job nor the Wall Street gig -- could be any tougher than the work Feinberg did for families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

"We were involved there with horrible unprecedented tragedy -- the deaths of 3,000 people is no comparison," Feinberg told ABC News when he took the Obama administration's pay czar job in June 2009.

"On the other hand, where there is a comparison is the fact ... that we did develop a compensation methodology to value claims of over 5,000 people," he said. "I think our success in developing that compensation methodology, factors and variables that we considered in adjusting compensation levels -- I think that had a lot to do with the view of the administration that I might be able to bring some substantive skill to this assignment."

With tens of thousands of barrels of oil still gushing into the Gulf every day and entire Gulf communities trying to cope with the ensuing destruction, Feinberg's next assignment will present another stern challenge.

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