The US Coast Guard’s film office remains open despite the government shut down. While 350,000 federal workers are currently not being paid and the national parks and national archives are temporarily shuttered, the government’s entertainment propaganda apparatus continues to fire on all cylinders despite the lack of appropriations.
Among the less well-known entertainment liaison offices, the Coast Guard’s Motion Picture & Television Office operates much like the DOD’s system. Scripts come in, get reviewed and are approved, changed or rejected on the basis of the Coast Guard’s PR concerns. Their site’s FAQs makes this clear, saying:
The Coast Guard must be depicted in an acceptable, accurate and dignified manner in the final product and promotional segments.
Exactly what constitutes a ‘dignified’ manner is not explained in any detail, but it basically means a way that is likely to inspire respect and deference from the watching public. This is clear from numerous Coast Guard-supported productions, ranging from Amazon‘s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan to hideous trash like The Adjustment Bureau and the moronic but enjoyable Baywatch. An incomplete but informative list of supported products is provided on the Coast Guard’s website.
Despite the staff not getting paid due to the government shutdown the Motion Picture & Television Office is still open. As chief warrant officer Mike Lutz explained to Deadline, ‘Obviously, it’s impacting our pay, but our office is operational.’ The article goes on to note that while they are currently working on several productions, none of them are actually in production, being filmed right now.
So why is the office still open?
Given that around 350,000 federal employees have been furloughed and another 400,000 are working without pay, why is the Coast Guard’s hollywood office considered a priority? After all, the national parks, national archives, FOIA offices, the Environmental Protection Agency and numerous other functions and segments of the US federal government have either been shut down or are working on reduced capacities.
This emphasises just how important the US government considers its entertainment liaison offices, especially in these times of record low approval ratings and the near-total loss of trust in public institutions. Currently the US public cannot request housing vouchers or file complaints about workplace discrimination, or even get a new beer approved by the FDA. But if you’re a Hollywood producer looking to get some Coast Guard hardware in your new movie or TV series, that service remains open and available to you.
Bizarrely, the Deadline article quotes a letter from Admiral Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, to his unpaid employees, which says:
I recognize the anxiety and uncertainty this situation places on you and your family, and we are working closely with service organizations on your behalf. To the best of my knowledge this marks the first time in our nation’s history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations.
What is odd about this is that the letter makes out that the Coast Guard are a military service, part of the DOD. While Coast Guard employees often have military ranks and can, technically, be militarised during a state of war, in their normal operations they are part of the Department of Homeland Security. This area of ambiguity reigns supreme on government websites, with the Coast Guard listed both as part of the DOD and part of the DHS.
Furthermore, their liaisons with Hollywood do not take place under the DOD instruction (5410.16) governing the military entertainment liaison offices, but under US law governing the Coast Guard (14 U.S.C. § 659). While all military operations, including their film offices, continue unaffected by the shut down, the Coast Guard is in a different position.
So, are the Coast Guard trying to leverage media interest in their entertainment liaison office to apply pressure on congress to resolve the shutdown? Making public the letter from Adm Schultz, which explicitly calls this the first time a US military service has been unable to pay its employees, certainly seems like an attempt to scare Congress into getting the budget sorted out. It evokes mental images of unsecured coast lines and implies that the US will be unable to militarily protect itself until a new budget passes through congress, when the reality is quite different.
Another day, another batch of lies…
P.S. After nearly three years and three appeals I am still waiting for the US Coast Guard to provide me with copies of reports from their entertainment liaison office. Given that it took over a month for them to even acknowledge that the Commandant had sent them a letter remanding my request, I will not be holding my breath.