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Widespread Policy Disruption: Terrorism, Public Risks, and Homeland Security

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Abstract

We address theoretical and empirical aspects of policy disruptions that affect multiple areas of policymaking. Our theorizing leads us to consider the effects of widespread disruptions in gaining the attention of elected officials, in affecting policymaking, and in reshaping the involvement of federal agencies. Our empirical analyses concern the threat of terrorism in the United States and its implications for public risk subsystems over the past 25 years. Our analyses of the attention of policymakers and resultant policymaking volatility show selective patterns of subsystem disruption related to the threat of terrorism. We show that capturing the attention of policymakers in multiple subsystems is insufficient to motivate heightened levels of policymaking across the board. In addition, we find more muted impacts for federal agency involvement than might have been expected from the massive reorganization that created the Department of Homeland Security. More generally, the disjunctions we observe show the powerful influence of policy subsystems in buffering against widespread policy disruptions.

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