Kenneth Feinberg, Overseeing Gulf Coast Fund, Ready To Deal With 'Thorny Issues'

TARP Administrator Kenneth Feinberg Testifies Before House Panel

hide captionKenneth Feinberg will oversee a $20 billion fund to repay victims of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ann Heisenfelt/Getty Images North America

On Wednesday, President Obama appointed Kenneth R. Feinberg to head a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier today, NPR's Melissa Block spoke to Feinberg, who is on the Gulf Coast today, meeting with Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, and Bobby Jindall, the governor of Louisiana.

"This program, up and running, will be an alternative to the type of protracted, uncertain litigation in the court systems of our country that would drag these compensation claims on for years," he said.

Instead, what we're creating here is an alternative, an administrative, no-fault, efficient, prompt payment program.

Feinberg is in the Gulf region today, meeting with Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, and Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, whom, he said, "couldn't have been more helpful to me, more constructive."

Shortly after the president announced his plans for the escrow account, Barbour told reporters he was worried about its potential effect on BP's financial stability.

"We need them to generate revenue to be able to pay us," Barbour told the Associated Press. "I worry that this escrow account reduces the chance of that rather than increasing the chances of that."

Feinberg acknowledged that he will be wrestling with some thorny issues, trying to determine the worth of businesses and personal injuries.

What do we do about lost-profit claims?  What do we do about a bartender in a motel on the Gulf Coast who says, I lost income, but it was a cash business,and I don't have tax returns?

He said that, in his new capacity, he will look to state laws — tort laws, especially — for guidance.

"I don't think it's necessarily my wily nilly discretion that will decide this," Feinberg said.  "I have to ground my decisions in some principled legal basis."

Going forward, the Obama administration's former "pay czar" says he and his colleagues, all of whom are being paid by BP, will move as quickly as possible.

"People can't wait for compensation," he told Block. "They can't wait for some sort of discretionary decision.  These decisions have to be made in a matter of weeks."

People are in desperate straights down here.  And that's why I'm down here today, and not in Washington.  I just can't wait.

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