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Already Hanging Around

Elaine L. Chao (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)

A time-honored rite of federal Washington is getting an earlier start these days.

The Labor Department drew back the curtain yesterday on a new portrait of long-serving secretary Elaine L. Chao, by New Jersey artist Chen Yanning, before a crowd of about 400 staffers and colleagues, union chiefs and pols. Sen. Orrin Hatch spoke and read a letter from ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy. Punch and finger foods were served.

Unveilings have traditionally taken place after an official leaves office -- Norman Mineta got his last month, more than two years after he left the Transportation Department; Donald Rumsfeld, two years gone from the Pentagon, will have to wait until next year. Chao has another six weeks on the job until she hands over the keys to an Obama appointee yet to be named.

Why now? "We're in a unique position in the fact that the secretary has been here all eight years" of the Bush administration, Labor spokesman David James said. "Before everybody leaves, come January, this was an opportune time to get everybody together." Admittedly, some Cabinet secretaries barely last long enough to pick an artist and schedule a sitting. A portrait of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who is coming up on four years in the post, will make its debut next week.

These kinds of portraits -- which a Washington Post review found can run as much as $50K -- are a perennial peeve for taxpayer watchdog types, so James was ready for our next question: "The first portrait to be hung at the Department of Labor in eight years, and the only portrait for this administration, cost the same amount as Secretary Chao's two predecessors in the Clinton administration, for a total of $25,000."

By The Reliable Source  |  December 12, 2008; 1:04 AM ET
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In these dire economic times to spend even $25,000 for the portrait is a slap on the face of the American public. Just so she knows: this price is 4 times what a typical unemployed person receives in benefits. This cavalier treatment of taxpayer's money is what galls us the most. What the heck has she accomplished in her tenure to deserve such a honor and expense?

Posted by: rudy-s | December 12, 2008 9:10 PM | Report abuse

No picture of the portrait?

Posted by: subwayguy | December 13, 2008 8:55 AM | Report abuse

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