Should Congress cap spending on official portraits?

December 13, 2013

A new bipartisan Senate bill would cap federal spending on painted portraits of government officials and limit the funding to the line of succession for the presidency.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), would restrict funding for the portraits to $20,000 apiece, with the money available only for officials who are in line for the presidency if the sitting commander in chief becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns or otherwise loses the office.

Former Defense Secretaries Don Rumsfeld, left, and Robert Gates, right, during a portrait unveiling ceremony in 2010. (Cherie Cullen/DOD)
Former Defense Secretaries Don Rumsfeld, left, and Robert Gates, right, during a portrait unveiling ceremony in 2010. (Cherie Cullen/DOD)

The line of succession consists of the vice president, the House speaker, the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Cabinet members, in that order.

Many of the government’s official portraits in recent years have cost more than double the proposed cap, with some paintings featuring political appointees who are not part of the Cabinet. A growing number of lawmakers have described the expenditures as wasteful.

“At a time when vital services and programs are facing cuts, we need to be looking at every way we can to stop excessive spending practices in Washington,” Shaheen said in a statement.

A 2008 Washington Post analysis of 30 portrait projects found that the costs ranged between $7,500 and nearly $50,000 apiece and that most of the contracts were awarded with no competitive bidding process.

MORE: Official portraits draw skeptical gaze

Separately, a Washington Times report said the federal government spent $180,000 last year on portraits, including paintings of non-Cabinet officials, such as former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, that cost at least $40,000 apiece.

“Hardworking taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for lavish official portraits, especially when government officials spend more on paintings of themselves than some Americans make in a year,” Coburn said.

House Republicans this year proposed a bill known as the EGO Act that would prohibit federal funding for official portraits of congressional lawmakers and agency heads for the executive and legislative branches.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and backed by 12 GOP co-sponsors, has been stuck in committee since April. It’s acronym stands for “Eliminate Government-funded Oil-painting.”

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics
Next Story
Josh Hicks · December 13, 2013