Bert Lance, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has asked President Carter to end the tradition of commissioning artist to do oil portraits of deparing Cabinet members.
Lance told the President that the tradition is too expensive and that the public treasury would be better served if Cabinet officers were immotalized in color photographs instead of oil paintings, an OMB official said.
If Carter approves Lance's recommendation, it would mean the end of an important source of federal revenue for portrait painters.
Cabinet protraits - as well as presidential portraits - can bring anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on the size of the painting, the framing and the artist. Although some artists say the official portraits provide only a small prt of their annual earning, they actively seek out the federal commissions whenever there is an individual change in Cabinet leadership or a wholesale change in administration.
The "honor" of having done a Cabinet portrait frequently can be used to attract high-paying commercial customers, some artists point out.
However, the OMB official said "Secretary Lance was appalled that the portraits cost so much" and suggested to the President that "high quality color photographs could be done for far less - from $800 to $1,000."
Professional portrait photographers said a $1,000 fee usually woud include a frame.
Lance's action was prompted by a constituent's letter to Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) last November. The writer urged Percy to "put a stop to the waste of the taxpayers' money spent on commissioning the portraits of every Cabinet secretary." Percy forwarded the letter to Lance on Jan. 17.
Last month, Lance wrote Percy: "We surveyed severn of the 11 Cabinet agencies, and the agencies reported that they do commission and pay for oil portraits for Cabinet secretaries.
"Most agencies charge the (portrait costs) to the salaries and the expense appropriations of the office of the secretary. This practice is based on Controller General decisions that the paintings used to decorate public buildings are furniture and therefore may be acquired and charged to salaries and expense appropriations."
The budger director said the practice of commissioning Cabinet oil portraits "dates back well over 100 years."
He ended the letter with the postscript: "I am going to suggest to the President that we revise this practice. I feel it is no longer appropriate."