Stroking Egos With Federal Funding

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By on March 18, 2018 in Agency News with 0 Comments

Passing the Ego Act

On March 14th, the Eliminating Government-funded Oil-Painting Act was approved in Congress. The bill has been sent to President Trump for his signature.

To provide context for this legislation, the original Senate report referred to this bill as the Ego Act. Perhaps someone in Congress viewed the practice of having portraits painted at government expense as more appropriate for royalty than officials of the American federal government and wanted to make a point.

In the final analysis, the version that passed in Congress still contains a reference to egos by noting that “This Act may be cited as the Eliminating Government-funded Oil-painting Act or the EGO Act.”

What This Act of Congress Provides

This Act of Congress is short—only two pages long. It states:

No funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Federal Government may be used to pay for the painting of a portrait of an officer or employee of the Federal Government, including the President, the Vice President, a Member of Congress, the head of an executive agency, or the head of an office of the legislative branch.

Anyone who walks through government buildings will sometimes notice a painting capturing a favorable likeness of the agency’s leader. Congress has now declared the practice is not worth the government’s money and wants to make that money available for other programs.

What triggered the legislation was a report that since 2010, agencies had spent more than $400,000 on portraits that are displayed within agency buildings. The paintings were sometimes placed in secure locations that are not open to the public.

Which Agencies Are Cited for Spending Money on Portraits?

In recent years, agencies authorized spending between $19,000 to $50,000 for each portrait.

Examples include $38,250 by the Environmental Protection Agency for a portrait of former Administrator Lisa Jackson; $22,500 by the Department of Commerce for a portrait of John Bryson, who was the head of the agency for eight months; $46,790 by the Department of Defense for a portrait of the former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, his second official portrait; and $25,000 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for a portrait of former Administrator Daniel Goldin.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld standing next to a painting of his portrait

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at his portrait unveiling ceremony

The Senate report states that money spent on painting portraits of high level officials is money that could have been spent to benefit the American public. As an example, it noted that “$30,500 spent on former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer’s portrait could have paid for over 9,000 free school lunches under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch Program.”

Other examples in the Senate report of money spent for official portraits include:

  • $41,200 by the Department of Defense (DoD) for a portrait of former Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley;
  • $22,500 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a portrait of Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack;
  • More than $40,000 by the United States Department of Justice for a portrait of former Attorney General John Ashcroft;
  • $30,500 by the USDA for a portrait of former Secretary Ed Schafer;
  • $34,425 by the USDA for a portrait of former Secretary Mike Johanns;
  • $19,500 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a portrait of Steve Preston, who served as Secretary for only seven months;
  • $46,790 by the DoD for a portrait of the former Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, his second official portrait bought by the American taxpayers;
  • $23,500 by the Department of Homeland Security for a portrait of former Commandant Adm. Thomas H. Collins;
  • $29,500 by the EPA for a portrait of the former Administrator Stephen L. Johnson;
  • $19,000 by the National Institute of Health for a portrait of former National Cancer Institute Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach.

Congress has passed a ban on using federal funds for these portraits for the last several years as part of the appropriations process. This legislation, if signed by the president, will make the ban permanent.

© 2019 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

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About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47

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