Policy disruptions are central to the characterization of policy change in American politics. Policy process scholars generally depict these as the introduction of new attributes of a problem or new ideas about solutions that lead to shifts in issue attention within a given area of policymaking (see Jones & Baumgartner, 2005, pp. 55-70). Policy disruptions can challenge existing arrangements and lead to a breakup or redefinition of the subsystem that constitutes a given policy area. The classic example is the deterioration of the dominant nuclear power subsystem that emphasized energy production followed by the emergence of the current nuclear safety subsystem that is focused on power plant safety (see Campbell, 1988; Temples, 1980).
But, what happens when a policy disruption affects a variety of policymaking areas? The possibility that a number of subsystems can be disrupted at once is an extension of single-system policy disruption. Baumgartner and Jones (1994, p. 65) suggest that the potential for uncontrollable spillovers across areas of policymaking for which "a large-scale issue redefinition can determine the fundamental direction of public policy for decades." Emmett Redford (1969, p. 107) suggests that widespread disruptions engender a macropolitics that "arises when the community at large and the leaders of the government as a whole are brought into the discussion and determination of issues ... [involving] matters that raise broader issues and concern wider interests than can be determined within them."
This type of widespread engagement arises from crises that confront actors in multiple policy areas. At the national level, the impacts are felt as elected officials grapple with the policymaking implications of the crisis at hand. As officials attempt to come to grips with the situation, the volatility of policymaking increases within and across different areas of policymaking. In turn, federal agencies grapple with their responses and policymakers' demands to do things differently. For those instances that policymakers attempt to reshape the federal apparatus for addressing the crisis at hand, long-standing patterns of agency involvement in different areas of policymaking are altered.
The potential for widespread policy disruptions raises fundamental questions: How do these disruptions play out within and across policy subsystems? How do these reverberate among federal agencies? How disruptive are these for policymaking and governing? We seek to answer these questions by theorizing about and empirically examining patterns of widespread policy disruption that affect multiple issue areas and their attendant subsystems. We draw on the literature concerning policy subsystems to suggest potential patterns of disruption and the resulting reverberations.
A fruitful case for examining widespread policy disruptions is provided by the threat of terrorism. It has been a longstanding and pervasive issue, albeit one that has only episodically intruded on the national agenda. Potential harms from terrorism within the United States were acknowledged at the highest levels of government beginning at least three decades before the events of September 11, 2001. Since the events of that day, the Bush administration has characterized terrorism as a major threat to our society that necessitates a war on terrorism. (1) The initial efforts of the White House Office of Homeland Security were aimed at mobilizing actions among different governmental subsystems in addressing the threat of terrorism. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was justified by the need for a more cohesive approach to homeland security. In creating this agency, policymakers sought to focus attention of the federal bureaucracy on the threat of terrorism and to extend existing preparedness capabilities for addressing natural and technological disasters.
We examine the disruptive impact of the …