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Feinberg pledges quick action on Gulf fund

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The official in charge of the $20 billion fund to compensate individuals and businesses hurt by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico pledged Friday to quickly create a system for processing claims.

"We will have a very transparent methodology in place," said Kenneth Feinberg, who was appointed earlier this week by President Obama to manage the compensation fund. "We'll set up a protocol very quickly so that everybody can examine what's expected."

BP agreed to establish the $20 billion fund Wednesday after company executives met with Obama in Washington. The company has said repeatedly that it will pay all legitimate claims related to the spill, which has become the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Feinberg, an attorney who served as special master of the 9/11 victims fund and advises Obama on Wall Street pay issues, asserted that the fund will be independently managed. He emphasized that he is not aligned with the government or BP.

"I will be running an independent claims facility," he said. "It is my program as an independent force."

Feinberg made the comments after meeting with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour in Jackson. He plans to meet with Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana later Friday.

He stressed that time is of the essence, saying that properly completed claims could be paid within 30 to 60 days of filing, once a protocol for processing them is complete.

But he acknowledged that there are challenges involved in verifying that damages are legitimately due to the spill. Larger claims may require more time for evaluation.

"Long-term payments will require sufficient corroboration so we can validate the claim," he said. Short-term, emergency payments will continue to be paid promptly.

BP deserves some credit for the steps it has already taken to process claims, Feinberg said, though it's his job to improve the process.

The company has opened about 25 claims offices, and said this week that it has issued about 25,000 claims checks totaling $63 million.

Feinberg said the protocol for handling claims is still being hammered out and that critical decisions need to be made about where to draw the line as the damage from the spill ripples across the Gulf economy.

Another issue that has yet to be decided is whether to exempt BP from lawsuits once full payment of a claim has been made, he said. To top of page

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