Since the new Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) was opened more than two years ago, the special master appointed to oversee its administration, Sheila Birnbaum, has been highly visible and widely lauded for its progress. Recently, she took some time to discuss her experience during a speech before the New York University School of Law Annual Alumni Luncheon.
On January 31, 2014, Ms. Birnbaum — a member of NYU Law’s Class of 1965 — delivered a keynote address to a gathering of 400 of her fellow alumni. During her address, she touched on several interesting points regarding her tenure as special master and her decision to step into the role:
- Prior to accepting her appointment, Ms. Birnbaum consulted with Kenneth Feinberg, the special master of the first VCF, for advice as to whether she should accept.
- Ms. Birnbaum noted the challenges of stepping into a leadership role in an endeavor that had no infrastructure in place. Building up the VCF’s administrative apparatus from nothing left her supervising every aspect of the operation, down to the installation of computer systems.
- Ms. Birnbaum discussed the challenges of effectively allocating VCF funds, capped at $2.775 billion among more than 56,000 potential claimants, especially in light of the fact that more than two thirds of those funds cannot be released until 2017.
- Ms. Birnbaum shared some of her emotional perspective after having presided over the internal appeals hearings that began in late January.
Despite the initial delays, Ms. Birnbaum and her staff of 75 have performed admirably, creating a workable administrative system to accomplish a monumental task. With the help of experienced WTC compensation lawyers, those injured or sickened by exposure in the wake of the 9/11 attacks can have faith they will ultimately receive the compensation they deserve.