WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner's request that the Justice Department begin the process of an impartial audit of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility has been included in legislation approved by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

The Alabama Republican is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Report language accompanying the fiscal year 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act directs the Justice Department to identify an independent auditor to evaluate the Gulf Coast Claims Facility's claims procedures and the qualifications of its employees.

The GCCF is a fund set up for victims of the Gulf oil spill, providing funds for natural resource damages, state and local response costs and individual compensation.

An explosion and fire occurred on Transocean's drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, licensed to BP, on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and resulting in the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

"As we approach the one-year anniversary of the creation of the GCCF, many South Alabama businesses and individuals are still complaining about unfair treatment of their oil spill damage claims by the BP-financed fund that has been tightly controlled by administrator Ken Feinberg," Bonner said in a statement.

"With BP now calling for the GCCF to wind down payments, it is imperative that an accurate accounting of Mr. Feinberg's claims system be made public."

Bonner said he met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month and personally asked him to order an impartial audit of the GCCF.

"Today, the House Appropriations Committee also called upon the Justice Department to begin the process of an independent review of the claims process," he said.

The report language accompanying the legislation includes: "To ensure that the GCCF is operating in accordance with the letter and intent of existing law, and in a timely, transparent and consistent manner, the Committee directs the Department, in consultation with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), to identify an independent auditor to evaluate GCCF's claims determination methodologies and the qualifications of GCCF personnel."

Bonner said he has requested on several occasions in the last six months that the GCCF undertake an independent audit to answer lingering questions about their procedures.

"The language passed by the House Appropriations Committee today directing the Department of Justice to undertake that effort is a critical step forward in gaining answers to those questions and bringing some certainty about the efficacy and fairness of the GCCF to the people of the Gulf Coast," he said.

The request comes on the heels of an action filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood Tuesday, suing Feinberg.

The attorney general filed the lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss.

Hood alleges that Feinberg, as head of the GCCF, has failed to turn over oil spill claims documents requested by the Attorney General's Office.

In March, Hood said he planned to put pressure on Feinberg. The month before, Hood's office served Feinberg with a subpoena asking for full access to the claims records so it could review them.

Hood says Feinberg has failed to comply with that subpoena.

The attorney general, in his lawsuit, asked the court to order Feinberg and the claims facility to fully comply with his subpoena.

The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard by Judge Denise Street Owens at 9 a.m. Sept. 15, a spokeswoman for Hood said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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