Katrina was more than a disaster. Like other national catastrophes of the past three decades, it reflects our collective failure to come to grips with the need for governance systems that can deal with the multiple, diverse, and conflicting expectations imposed on the public sector. What we have here is another example of the modern tragedy of accountability.

As the profession of emergency management in the United States today considers, in conjunction with FEMA’s National Emergency Center, the critical competencies to its becoming a true profession, this special issue of PAR gives those competencies relevance. We are learning from experience that responses to natural as well as intentional and technical catastrophes require progressive planning and an assurance that the highest possible degree of unity of effort among all levels of government and all elements of the community is operational so as to manage risk effectively.

In order to do so, public managers as well as federal, state and local agencies need to be flexible and armed with collaborative and coordinated knowledge-based approaches that are also comprehensive. To do so is no easy feat. It requires leadership and may truly represent the redefinition of public administration competencies in our intergovernmental system due to the interrelatedness of technical, economic and fiscal issues to effective or ineffective disaster response whether that be from terrorism, nuclear proliferation, natural disasters, or the spread of infectious diseases.

That may be why the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified security threats as the first of seven key themes in its Forces That Will Shape America’s Future: Themes from GAO’s Strategic Plan 2007–2012, released in April of this year. In fact, this series of articles may represent the beginning of what the GAO calls for: a need to better assess how well governmental entities are performing and whether they are achieving the desired results through a comprehensive review of federal programs and policies that analyzes whether or not they are meeting their objectives based upon outcome-based goals which have been developed using stakeholder and state, local governmental guidance.