WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed an expert in handling mass casualty cases to oversee a compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and their families.
Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington attorney and former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., will manage the program, scheduled to begin Dec. 21. Victims and families can apply for federal money to cover lost wages, pain and suffering in lieu of filing lawsuits against the airlines and other entities.
''His responsibility will be, first and foremost, to see that the neediest of those who were injured by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks receive relief as soon as possible,'' said Ashcroft.
Two weeks ago the American Red Cross said it will use all the money donated to its Liberty Fund for people affected by the terrorist attacks, reversing a plan to set aside some of the money for other needs. Families have also complained that it's difficult to apply for money from some charities.
''This program will be, to the best that I can do it, simple, efficient and clear,'' Feinberg said.
He said the law that created the fund was ambiguous but gave him wide discretion.
Feinberg will decide how much each family or victim will get and how they will have to apply for money. He will not be paid for the job, which will last three years. The program was created by Congress and will distribute an unspecified amount of money.
Lawmakers of both political stripes applauded Ashcroft's choice. ''This is a good choice for a tough job,'' said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
As special master of the fund, Feinberg will oversee thorny issues such as how people should apply for compensation, whether the program should pay for victims' lawyers, whether people who are not satisfied with their payment can appeal and whether domestic partners are entitled to compensation.
One of the most contentious issues is whether government compensation should be reduced by the amount victims' families receive from pensions, insurance payments or gifts from charities.
The law creating the program says awards should take into account the amount of ''collateral source compensation'' applicants have or will receive, but does not specify what sources should be included in determining reductions in awards.
Families and lawyers have already written to the Justice Department, opposing reductions in awards based on other compensation.
Ashcroft said the department was still in the process of developing program rules.
The selection of Feinberg was based on his considerable experience as a mediator, government officials said.
Feinberg was one of three arbitrators who determined how much the government should pay the heirs of Dallas dressmaker Abraham Zapruder for his film that captured the assassination of President Kennedy.
He was also a special master in Agent Orange cases involving soldiers who alleged they were sickened by chemicals used by the government in Vietnam. He also worked on asbestos cases, a class-action case concerning the Shoreham nuclear facility and litigation involving claims against the maker of the Dalkon Shield birth control device.
Feinberg was an assistant to Kennedy in the late 1970s and was special counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1975 to 1980.
His appointment comes a week after the Bush administration renamed the Justice Department building after Kennedy's late brother, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
On the Net:
Compensation fund: http://www.usdoj.gov/victimcompensation/
Office for Victims of Crime: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/vfa
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