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BP's Victims Fund: Kenneth Feinberg's Tough Task

Morley Safer Profiles The Man Tasked With Dispensing The $20 Billion Fund

If you know this man, you know he is the go-to guy for thankless jobs - America's arbiter of human suffering. Kenneth Feinberg is his name.

"60 Minutes" first met him when he was asked by the government to adjudicate the 9/11 victims fund, to place a monetary value on each of the almost 3,000 lives that were lost. And there were the Agent Orange victims and the Virginia Tech massacre victims and now, in sheer numbers, the biggest headache of all, compensating the thousands and thousands of angry people affected by the BP oil spill.

Feinberg has been holding town meetings for weeks now in the Gulf States, where, armed with only his reputation and a $20 billion pot of money, he calls for patience and accepts all blame.

Extra: Feinberg and BP
Extra: Uncertainties

Feinberg may be perceived by most Americans as the fairest in the land, if not for looks then surely for his judgment. But to the shrimpers, oystermen, boat captains, restaurant and hotel owners and their employees, all of whose lives and livelihoods have been completely upended, he is seen as a penny-pinching scrooge, when they wanted a beneficent Santa Claus.

"We had Katrina. We had a down economy. Now, we got the spill. You can't tell me one person that has not suffered. Why don't you open up the purse strings?" an audience member asked Feinberg at one hearing.

"Here's my answer: don't trust my words. My words, you've heard a lotta talk. Let's just see over the next few weeks and months, 'Have I delivered on my promise to help people in Mississippi?'" he replied.

Ever since the Deepwater Horizon blew last April, it was clear that this was a disaster in the making. The fishing industry came to a stop, tourism was wrecked, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands - anyone who was dependent on these waters - were in deep jeopardy.

Under pressure from the federal government, BP agreed to create a victim's compensation fund; both BP and the White House wanted one man, Ken Feinberg, to administer it.

"I felt that if asked, I should step up and try and help as best I can," Feinberg told correspondent Morley Safer.

"What is it about Ken Feinberg that makes him the nation's arbiter of impossible decisions?" Safer asked.

"I think there's something that experience brings to the table, in terms of getting these problems solved," he replied.

This 64-year-old lawyer's experience in mediation and placing monetary value on human suffering is unmatched.

President Obama made him his "pay czar," where he cut the salaries of executives of companies that received government bailouts. But it was his role as special master of the 9/11 victim's compensation fund that was his greatest challenge, and likely his lasting legacy.

He told Safer, "9/11 was a horrific experience because you were dealing with traumatic death where people said goodbye to loved ones that morning and never saw them again. Incinerated, no body to bury. This is different but it's very, very emotional, BP. Very emotional. It's not death. It's more, 'What does the future hold in terms of my ability to earn a living?'"

He has $20 billion of BP's money to dole out as he sees fit.

The idea behind the fund is similar to 9/11: persuade people to accept payment for their losses upfront instead of engaging in long and costly and uncertain lawsuits against BP.

"It's a free country. If you wanna come into the fund, with all the benefits of the fund, come on in. You're welcome. We'll give you a fair shake. We'll process your claim. We'll pay what you're due. If you don't like what we're paying you, if you think we're nickel and diming you, if you think we're not being fair, opt out and go the other route. Now, in 9/11, 97 percent of all eligible claimants entered the fund. Only 94 people out of 3,000 decided to litigate," Feinberg explained.