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WASHINGTON - The first special master of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund that was created to provide funds to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or clean-up operations is stepping down, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.

New York attorney Sheila Birnbaum, who has overseen the fund since May 2011 after it was created by Congress, is being replaced by Rupa Bhattacharyya, who is now the director of the Justice Department’s constitutional and specialized tort litigation section.

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“Serving as special master of the VCF has been perhaps the most personally rewarding work of my career,” Birnbaum said in a statement. She said she thought she had accomplished her goal “to establish a program that is fair, transparent and easy to navigate.”

Birnbaum rendered award decisions on more than 10,000 claims and paid over $1.8 billion to first responders, recovery workers and residents who were harmed or killed by the terrorist attacks or debris removal afterward.

Bhattacharyya, who has been in her current position since 2012, has also served informally as an adviser to the Justice Department’s Civil Division on matters related to the Victims Compensation Fund.

The advocacy group 911 Health Watch thanked Birnbaum for her work and warned that her successor “will face serious challenges in implementing the 2015 reauthorization.”