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Toiling over the reparations from the BP oil spill

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Jeremy Hobson: The U.S. government has issued a second permit for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for a BHP Billiton well about 120 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Meanwhile those who make their livings off of the Gulf are still trying to get some compensation for the business they lost as a result of the BP oil spill.

And we’re going to talk now to the man who oversees the claims process for the fund set up by BP. Ken Feinberg joins us from Washington. Good morning.

Ken Feinberg: Good morning.

Hobson: So we’re about a month away from the one-year anniversary of the oil spill, and the claims process is still far from over. How many claims right now are still under review?

Feinberg: Under review, there are about 130,000. We started out this phase with about 250,000; we’ve whittled down half of them. We’ve distributed over $3.5 billion to about 170,000 people and individuals in the Gulf.

Hobson: Are things moving fast enough in your view?

Feinberg: No. We’re moving as fast as we can. There’s been well-intentioned criticism about pace from the administration and from local politicians in the Gulf. But I do think the program is moving more expeditiously. We’ve got more people in the Gulf responding to individual claimants. So I think we’re picking up the pace.

Hobson: All right. Now, you’re handling the BP oil spill fund right now, but you also handle the 9/11 Victims’ Fund, the Wall Street compensation fund after the financial crisis. What would you say prepared you to be the man to go to for these tasks?

Feinberg: When you do these very rare and unique programs of compensation — after all, they are extremely rare; you don’t have a $20 billion fund that’s established every day — the sort of, I guess, desire to go back to the person who’s done it before. I’ve been asked to do this, and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. One problem here, that we didn’t have in 9/11, is both the volume of claims and the pervasive absence of documentation and proof. And I’m a fiduciary for these funds, I’m trying to get the money out, but I want proof.

Hobson: What would you say to a business school student who wants to be the next Ken Feinberg?

Feinberg: You can have all the expertise in the world in understanding the issues and the formulas — you have to be a shrink. Emotional anger, frustration comes with the victims of a national tragedy. If you’re a business school student, you better be well-educated in what divinity school teaches you about human nature and human emotion.

Hobson: Kenneth Feinberg, the guy that every White House seems to go to when there’s big trouble. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

Feinberg: Thank you.

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