Former Congressman Anh ‘Joseph’ Cao fired by oil spill claims czar Kenneth Feinberg

By David Hammer, The Times-Picayune

Former U.S. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao has been fired by oil spill claims czar Kenneth Feinberg from his position as a liaison to the Vietnamese and coastal fishing communities.

Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressFormer U.S. Rep. Anh ‘Joseph’ Cao has been fired from his post in Kenneth Feinberg’s oil spill claims organization.
Cao, the first Vietnamese-American member of Congress, was hired by Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility shortly after his one term in the U.S. House ended in January. He was asked to reach out to the sizable number of Vietnamese fishers who had filed claims for lost earnings, business profits and use of gulf resources for subsistence.

The relationship ended March 8, when Cao says he was let go after just two months on the job. Feinberg, however, said Cao had completed the work he was hired to do.

“We appreciate all that former Congressman Cao did in assisting the Gulf Coast Claims Facility,” Feinberg said by email Monday. “We have moved on to the next phase in the claims process, and we are grateful for his completing his assignment with us.”

Cao said Feinberg called him in early March and told him he was being too “hands-on” and that his services were no longer needed.

A lawyer, Cao said he appreciated the opportunity to explain a complex claims process to fishers, and particularly the Vietnamese community. But he grew frustrated with policies he said were devised and administered by people who had little understanding of the coastal communities they were supposed to help.

Cao pointed out a number of problems with the process, but his recommendations seemed to fall on deaf ears, he said. Top among them was Feinberg’s insistence on using the average of 2008 and 2009 earnings as the basis for estimating what gulf fishers would have earned in 2010 if the oil spill hadn’t ruined the season.

He said the 2008 season was interrupted by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and that many shrimpers refrained from harvesting during parts of the 2009 season as a part of an organized protest against low-priced Asian imports being dumped on the U.S. market.

“Those are the kinds of decision-making processes I don’t believe they have in place to really understand how the fishing community really lives,” Cao said.

Cao even questioned why he and other “liaisons” were necessary. He said it simply added a layer of bureaucracy when there had been a legion of claims adjusters in place already. The problem was that local claims adjusters were initially prohibited from working through problems with individual claimants.

Other liaisons hired by Feinberg remain with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, including the Long Law Firm of Baton Rouge and HGI Catastrophe Services, the Lutcher company that runs the Road Home recovery program.

“They made it way too complicated. I said, ‘Why can’t the (adjuster) look into people’s cases to tell them what needs to be done? Why are there law firms coming in?’ And I was one of them,” Cao said. “In the beginning my role was very clear, reaching out to the Vietnamese community and clarifying the program. But subsequently my role was diminished. I was asked to stop doing town halls, to stop doing other things besides confine ourselves to the local claims offices. And that’s when I began to question why we need an added layer to do this.”

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