Senate Aims to Save Money by Cracking Down on Official Portraits

Monday, December 16, 2013
Michael Donley Portrait

Still looking for ways to trim federal spending, two U.S. senators have proposed reducing, but not eliminating, expenditures for official portraits, which at times have costs upwards of $50,000 apiece.


The bill, introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), would cap funding for the portraits at $20,000 per painting.


Another provision says taxpayer money can only be spent on portraits of those officials who are in the line of succession for the presidency (that being the vice president, the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate and cabinet members).


“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.


The Washington Post determined five years ago that the portraits can range in cost between $7,500 and $50,000, with most of the work performed by artists selected without any competitive bidding.


Another analysis, by the Washington Times, found the federal government spent $180,000 on portraits in 2011, including paintings of non-cabinet officials like former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and ex-Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.


Jackson’s cost about $40,000, and Donley’s, which was unveiled at his farewell dinner on June 20, 2013, $41,200.


“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.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Should Congress Cap Spending on Official Portraits? (by Josh Hicks, Washington Post)

Picture This: Cabinet Portraits for Big Bucks (by Jim McElhatton, Washington Times)


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