Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had some advice for the artist who painted his official portrait, unveiled Friday at the Pentagon.
"Don't make me look too damn good," Hagel said.
"Don't worry," his brother replied.
Hagel's brother, Michael, just happens to be a renowned artist/illustrator, who — as Hagel noted in remarks at Friday's unveiling ceremony — had paintings hanging in the Pentagon and Officers' Clubs all over the world long before Hagel ever made it to the Pentagon.
Speaking under a warm Washington sun in the Pentagon's five-and-a-half acre center courtyard, current Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted how Hagel had served as a lowly Army sergeant in Vietnam but rose to serve as the 24th secretary of defense from 2013 to 2015.
"Secretary Hagel's brother Michael has also inspired thousands of service members and civilians with his paintings commemorating acts of valor," Mattis said. "Some have graced the Pentagon for more than 25 years."
Mattis said Michael Hagel donated his "time and talent" to paint the portrait of his more famous brother, which is notable for its unadorned background, and its single embellishment: Hagel's Combat Infantry Badge.
In explaining why Hagel's brother was uniquely qualified for the commissioned artwork, Mattis said "In 1989 he painted one the most famous missions of the 5th Air Force during World War II, the raid on Simpson Harbor, a painting that hung on the wall of Chairman Colin Powell's office before being moved to Secretary Hagel's office during his tenure, a painting which graces my outer office."
The expense of official portraits that typically cost as much as $50,000 has been a thorny issue in these times of tight budgets and congressionally-imposed spending caps.
In recent years, temporary amendments to the federal budget have barred the expenditure of taxpayer dollars for what critics see as vanity projects, resulting in a savings of $500,000 a year according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
A move to make the portrait ban permanent was blocked last year by then-minority leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., but last month Sen. John Tester, R-Mont, re-introduced the "Eliminating Government-Funded Oil-Paintings" (EGO) Act that would prohibit federal agencies from using taxpayer dollars to commission official portraits of government employees.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.; Deb Fischer, R-Neb; and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
But Hagel avoided the possible criticism by virtue of having a celebrated artist as a sibling, who painted the portrait for free.
"He gave me a good deal," Hagel joked.
As for his brother's promise not to make him look "too damn good," Hagel said, "I have not studied it enough to know whether he was serious about his comment."