President's 'compensation czar' appears Sunday
Today, Kenneth Feinberg will receive compensation proposals from seven companies, including AIG, Citigroup and Bank of America, that have been beneficiaries of federal bailout dollars from the Bush and Obama administrations and from the Congress.
Sunday evening, Mr. Feinberg, the Washington lawyer appointed by President Barack Obama to study these pay plans and the man known as the Obama administration's "compensation czar," will appear in the Martha's Vineyard Times Newsmakers Series, at 7 pm, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. He will discuss his complicated and novel assignment.
Mr. Feinberg has been negotiating with these institutions, to understand what they are likely to propose and to suggest perhaps the criteria that will guide his decision to approve or reject their plans. But his appearance Sunday evening will be the first occasion on which he will discuss publicly the proposals he's received and his reaction to them.
"I haven't seen the compensation plans yet," Mr. Feinberg said in a telephone conversation Monday, "although I've been negotiating with the companies, but they'll all come in Thursday, and Sunday will be the first occasion I'll have to discuss what I've learned."
The plans due today are for each company's top 25 earners. Mr. Feinberg has 60 days to rule on them. He is empowered to single out any of these employees and adjust their pay packages. Then, he will review the packages of the next 75 highest earners in each company. He can set pay formulas for them to be applied broadly and perhaps to serve as models for other businesses. Companies whose plans Mr. Feinberg must review also include General Motors, GMAC, Chrysler and its finance unit.
Mr. Feinberg, a good-humored, energetic, 63-year-old Washington lawyer, is a Brockton native and a frequent Vineyard visitor. He founded his own law firm, The Feinberg Group, in 1992.
Mr. Feinberg has presided over several difficult and draining assignments, including serving pro bono as special master of the federal government's September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which distributed nearly $7 billion to more than 5,000 families and victims of 9/11. Like his current assignment, that was an unusual job, with few guideposts for the decision maker.
"It's a brutal, sort of cold thing to do," Mr. Feinberg said of his Victim Compensation Fund work, in a report by ABC news, on December 19, 2003. "Anybody who looks at this program and expects that by cutting a U.S. Treasury check, you are going to make 9/11 families happy, is vastly misunderstanding what's going on with this program."
In 2005, Mr. Feinberg published a book, What Is Life Worth?, describing his experiences.
Mr. Feinberg also administered the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, set up for the benefit of victims' families, following the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting.
The questions Mr. Feinberg must decide in his latest assignment have to do with what executives in these companies, which were teetering on the brink of collapse late last year, ought to be paid for their work this year and how these companies ought to make compensation arrangements. Some of these executives are popularly regarded as significant contributors to the global economic recession. They are also key contributors to the future success of these financial and manufacturing corporations, in whom American taxpayers hold big stakes as shareholders and creditors.
"We want to control the pay of these executives, and we also want them to do a great job for us," Mr. Feinberg said.
There is no charge for the event, but capacity is limited to 125.
Annually, The Times sponsors public discussions with officials, policy makers, journalists, and other newsmakers. The next program in The Times "Newsmaker" series will focus on health care issues, both Vineyard and national on Tuesday, August 25, at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.
The panel members will include Martha's Vineyard Hospital surgeon Peter Pil, head of the hospital medical staff, and Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital.
The discussion will include changes patients and customers of the new $42 million Island hospital will experience when the facility, now under construction, opens in January, and the ways in which the Island medical center's affiliation with Partners HealthCare and the Massachusetts General Hospital has contributed to these changes.