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Once it’s finished and framed, the Preston portrait will hang with paintings of all of the other past HUD secretaries in a 10th-floor hallway of the department’s headquarters building in Washington.

Asked whether tourists could view the portraits, HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said the department hasn’t had any requests to do so, but he noted that it was a public building.

But when The Times later called to ask to send a photographer, Mr. Brown declined, pointing out that the paintings are in a secure section of the building where people work.

HUD, EPA and USDA are hardly alone. The Commerce Department is spending $22,500 for a secretary’s portrait, while the Interior Department will pay $24,900, records show.

Steve Ellis, spokesman for the D.C.-based Taxpayers for Common Sense, said official portraits of presidents make sense, “but the further you move down the food chain, it’s less understandable.”

“It’s preposterous to think that these are all in the public domain for the art-enjoying public to review the merits of portraiture,” he said. “It’s about stroking egos.”