Why the Spending Bill Would Ban Official Portraits

Federal officials have a history of commissioning expensive oil paintings for tens of thousands of dollars.

The official portrait of President George W. Bush was unveiled in 2012. A section in the 2014 spending bill would prohibit the federal government from paying for portraits of employees, including the president.
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
Add to Briefcase
Jack Fitzpatrick
Jan. 15, 2014, 7:29 a.m.

Fisc­al con­ser­vat­ives didn’t get everything they wanted in the 2014 spend­ing bill, but they did win the battle over oil paint­ings.

It might be mean­ing­less in the con­text of the $1.1 tril­lion om­ni­bus bill re­vealed Tues­day, but one sec­tion of the bill would save money by ban­ning the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment from pay­ing for paint­ings of the pres­id­ent, vice pres­id­ent, mem­bers of Con­gress, or oth­er of­fi­cials.

Those sav­ings might be small com­pared with is­sues re­lat­ing to the Af­ford­able Care Act or the de­fense budget, but Cab­in­et heads have man­aged to spend a sur­pris­ing amount on paint­ings in the past.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment spent $180,000 on of­fi­cial por­traits in 2012, ac­cord­ing to a Novem­ber 2012 re­view by The Wash­ing­ton Times. The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency spent nearly $40,000 on a por­trait of then-Ad­min­is­trat­or Lisa Jack­son; the Air Force spent $41,200 on a por­trait of then-Sec­ret­ary Mi­chael Don­ley; and the Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment spent $22,500 on a por­trait of Sec­ret­ary Tom Vil­sack, ac­cord­ing to The Times in­vest­ig­a­tion. Be­fore Jack­son’s por­trait, the EPA spent about $30,000 on a por­trait of then-Sec­ret­ary Steph­en John­son, the news­pa­per said.

And The Wash­ing­ton Post found in 2008 that most por­trait con­tracts are awar­ded with no com­pet­it­ive bid­ding.

Ex­pens­ive por­traits drew op­pos­i­tion be­fore the is­sue found its way in­to the spend­ing bill. In April, Rep. Bill Cas­sidy, R-La., in­tro­duced the Elim­in­at­ing Gov­ern­ment-fun­ded Oil paint­ing (EGO) Act, which also would have pro­hib­ited fed­er­ally fun­ded por­traits of cer­tain of­fi­cials.

It’s worth elim­in­at­ing those costs even if it doesn’t make a no­tice­able dent in the budget, said Steve El­lis, spokes­man for the watch­dog group Tax­pay­ers for Com­mon Sense.

“At least it’s show­ing a nod to some level of fisc­al re­spons­ib­il­ity while we waste mil­lions and bil­lions else­where,” El­lis said.

Por­traits of the pres­id­ent, vice pres­id­ent, and oth­er ma­jor polit­ic­al fig­ures are un­der­stand­able, but a nicely framed pho­to­graph should be enough for less in­flu­en­tial of­fi­cials, El­lis said.

And some fed­er­ally fun­ded por­traits are loc­ated in se­cure areas of of­fice build­ings, off-lim­its to the pub­lic, adding to El­lis’s be­lief that tax­pay­ers should not pay for them.

As di­git­al cam­er­as be­come cheap­er and even the pres­id­ent uses a phone to take selfies, the pur­pose of painted por­traits has changed. Rather than simply doc­u­ment­ing lead­ers of ex­ec­ut­ive agen­cies, El­lis said they have be­come a lav­ish perk.

“There are very few people who could af­ford to pay for a por­trait at all,” El­lis said, “and times have changed.”

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
2 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
2 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login