Call for permanent portrait ban revived

As former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s portrait secured its place on the hallway wall outside the secretary’s agency office, a Democratic senator renewed her effort to limit how much the federal government can spend on costly oil paintings of federal officials.

After the Loop reported this week that Chertoff’s portrait cost the agency $30,500 and was in the works several years, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) re-upped a bill she introduced in December that would not completely ban taxpayer-funded portraits, but cap the price tag at $20,000 a pop. It stipulates that federal funds only be used for “officials in line for the presidency,” which allows cabinet secretaries to keep one of the perks of the job.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright raises her arms at the unveiling of her official portrait as the 64th Secretary of State at the State Department in Washington, Monday, April 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson) Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright raises her arms at the unveiling of her official portrait as the 64th Secretary of State at the State Department in Washington, Monday, April 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

Any official seeking a more expensive replication of him or herself could use private dollars.

“With all due respect to former Secretary Chertoff and his service, this is exactly the type of government spending our country can do without,” Shaheen said. “The federal government should pay for these types of portraits in a way that protects taxpayers instead of wasting their money.”

The fiscal 2014 omnibus spending bill forbid all spending on portraits for the year, but it was not a permanent ban.

Loop efforts to obtain a photo of the Chertoff portrait from DHS were not immediately successful.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.

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