The Go-To Mediator
Kenneth R. Feinberg could hardly have been surprised to get the call when the White House needed an experienced hand to administer the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Claims Facility, tasked with distributing the $20 billion fund BP created in June to compensate individuals and businesses for losses from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (See “The Price of Oil.”)
After all, “I’ve become a nationally recognized philanthropist with other people’s money,” Feinberg quipped during an interview with the ABA Journal.
The founder and Washington, D.C.-based managing partner of Feinberg Rozen—and an ABA member for more than three decades—Feinberg already had a history with the Obama administration. In the administration’s first days, Feinberg served as “special pay master” with responsibility for setting the salaries of top executives at companies rescued by the federal government during some of this recession’s darkest days.
Furthermore, Feinberg had developed a strong reputation for resolving difficult mediations and settlements. His most notable assignment was serving as special master of the $7 billion Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. Working pro bono over a 33-month period that included often-emotional sessions with victims and families, Feinberg eventually convinced 97 percent of the eligible claimants to settle through the fund rather than file lawsuits.
Feinberg says he didn’t hesitate to take on the task of heading up the oil spill compensation fund. “This is deemed to be the worst environmental accident in American history,” he says. “It has tremendous public interest consequences, not only for the region but for the country and the world. I didn’t hesitate any more than any lawyers or citizens would hesitate.”
Since his appointment June 16, Feinberg has traveled to the Gulf region to meet with state and local officials, attend town meetings, and talk with people who have seen jobs lost and businesses threatened by the spill.
The victims’ anguish is familiar. The oil spill is “every bit as traumatic, and people are as angry, frustrated and worried” as the victims of the 9/11 attacks. “Fortunately, there aren’t 3,000 dead, and it wasn’t a terrorist attack,” Feinberg says. “But there are 11 dead and people who are greatly concerned about the impact of the spill on their daily lives, their ability to make a living and their businesses.”