By Sasha Chavkin, ProPublica
Kenneth Feinberg, the independent administrator appointed by President
Barack Obama to oversee compensation for the Gulf oil spill, last week
described broad changes to BP's claims system that he will put in place
when he takes over the process.
At a public meeting in Panama City, Fla., Feinberg pledged improvements including a quicker approval process in which claims are evaluated and checks written within a week
after an application is submitted, an electronic tracking system that
allows applicants to check the status of their claims online, and a
policy that a single adjuster will handle a claim throughout the
Feinberg is scheduled to take over claims management from BP on Aug. 23.
The changes outlined by Feinberg, reported in The Palm Beach Post and The News Herald
of Panama City, target areas that have drawn some of the most
persistent criticisms from claimants. Applicants have described being
switched among multiple adjusters, having difficulty contacting the
right person to follow up on their claims, and in some cases waiting for
months without payments after BP placed their claims on hold.
As we previously reported, BP acknowledged that decisions about thousands of claims are being deferred
until Feinberg takes over. Claims for indirect damages that are not
explicitly covered under a 1990 federal law called the Oil Pollution
Act, such as losses by realtors whose property is not on the beach, are
not being approved by BP.
At the Panama City meeting, Feinberg criticized the delays
by BP and pledged quick action on the claims that the company has left
in limbo. He said that he would promptly begin considering damage claims
that address losses caused by indirect effects of the spill rather than
by the oil itself.
"You do not need to have oil on your beach in order to file a claim,"
Feinberg said. "People who have been waiting, waiting, we will process
those claims immediately."
The changes he described raise questions about how smoothly the Aug. 23
transition will proceed. Feinberg will keep the 35 claims offices that
BP has set up across the Gulf, but when the system switches to his
control, applicants will have to refile their claims either
electronically or in person at these offices. However, they will not
have to resubmit the documentation that they provided to support these
"Complete data transfer will take place" when the claims process is
taken over by Feinberg, BP spokeswoman Patricia Wright said in an
e-mail. News reports of Feinberg's appearance did not address whether he
will seek to match BP's existing individual data and documentation with
refiled claims or simply set up less stringent documentation standards
for the approval of these claims.