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Washington to CEOs: Meet Your Compensation Czar


New "special master" to handle payroll for nation's top earners.

CEOs of America: Meet your enemy. His name... is Feinberg.

The Obama administration, in its ongoing effort to quell public outrage over CEO compensation, hired Kenneth R. Feinberg to act as arbiter of all things payroll for 175 top executives of companies that have received billions in federal aid.

Executives now under the thumb of the new compensation czar include Bank of America's (BAC) Ken Lewis, Citigroup's (C) Vikram Pandit and General Motor's (GRM) Fritz Henderson. Also at Feinberg's mercy are the heads of AIG (AIG), Chrysler, and GMAC.

Feinberg's assent to master of the bucks represents the latest move in an administration that's been passing the buck ever since executive pay became anathema to outraged populists.

First, Obama proposed capping pay at $500,000 for executives whose companies received "exceptional assistance." But for blood-thirsty citizens, this wasn't enough. Next, Congress approved a $787 billion stimulus bill that included a provision that instructed the Treasury department to set even more rigorous rules.

It came as no surprise that Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner -- not the most beloved man on Wall Street -- decided to pawn the job of enforcement off to someone else. Geithner has blamed executive pay for encouraging short-term profiteering that resulted in the current financial crisis. At the recommendation of Senator Christopher Dodd, Geithner saddled Feinberg with the work.

Fortunately, when it comes to taking jobs that no man would wish upon his worst enemy, Feinberg has a stellar resume.

Most recently, Feinberg, a lawyer by trade, had the painful job of assigning monetary value to the lives of 9/11 victims so that the government could offer settlements to families and thereby avoid massive lawsuits.

Before that, Feinberg helped settle cases involving victims of asbestos, Agent Orange, and faulty birth-control devices, according to the New York Times. Feinberg also determined the market value of the famed Kennedy assassination film, shot by Abraham Zapruder.
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