Controls in Pop Culture

The Amazing Export Compliance Reality Show

It’s been nearly fifteen years since the first flaming torch was extinguished at Tribal Council in the debut of Survivor.

Since then, reality TV has been our guilty pleasure. In recent years, shows like Border Wars and Airport 24/7: Miami have brought customs compliance issues into our living rooms, reminding us why you should never let the hilarious new pal you met at the airport bar hold your carry-on bag.

But while it’s exciting to watch shows about elicit goings-on at airports and border crossings, it’s high time a new compliance-based reality show was introduced. Between the nitty gritty tasks frontline export compliance workers engage in each and every day and the scary consequences of export control violations, there’s more than enough entertaining fodder for a new hit series. We suggest a show that incorporates familiar conventions of some of the most popular reality fare currently on the air, such as:

Skill-Testing Team Challenges

On reality television it’s the players who pay the most attention to detail and strategy that come out on top. An export compliance challenge could involve teams competing to reclassify all their products and technology to accommodate new United States Munitions List (USML) and Commerce Control List (CCL) categories under Export Control Reform (ECR). With sand running urgently through an oversized hourglass, teams will need to reclassify as many items as they can before time runs out. Every classification error elicits a game show-style buzzer. The losing team has to vote off a member and prepare a Voluntary Disclosure.

Celebrities Seeking Exposure

It’s fun to see celebrities (and pseudo-celebrities) swap spouses, square off in dance challenges and compete for food. But equally exciting, some of our favorite public figures are directly in the thick of export regulation controversies that will feature prominently in our show. Take Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and his budding space tourism venture. Under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Chinese nationals would be denied ridership on Branson’s Virgin Galactic spacecraft. The risk of military technology being stolen is nothing compared to the horrors Branson faces by potentially losing out on all those $250,000 admission tickets. Our series will follow this struggling entrepreneur as he tries to work within the law without jeopardizing his ability to make ends meet. Parallel to Branson’s troubles is the story of former NBA star Dennis Rodman. We’ll shadow this globe-trotting goodwill ambassador to North Korea, where he’ll bravely defy U.S. sanctions in the name of true friendship as he lavishes luxury gifts on dictator pal Kim Jong-Un. Keep tissues handy for this one.

No-Nonsense Judging and Audience Participation

Simon Cowell has nothing on the Department of State (DOS) in terms of lowering the hammer on those who ask for it. Our segment “Immunity or Consent Agreement?” follows a different company each week as it navigates the pitfalls of a sloppy export compliance program. Will the company’s half-hearted restricted party screening procedures be enough to avoid a transaction with a known narcotics smuggler? Will unfamiliarity with their own products (and with ITAR) lead to a series of “oopsies” with an embargoed nation? Our panel of official government judges from the DOS will share opinions regarding the violations and near-violations of the hapless organization, but ultimately it will be up to the nation to vote (via a five dollar per call 1-800 number) on whether or not a company gets immunity or a consent agreement. United States residents only, please.

With any luck, the loosely titled “The Amazing Export Compliance Reality Show” will be on the air this summer. Interested participants – including some of Hollywood’s most compliant stars and our nation’s most successful businesses – are already applying! Do you have what it takes?