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Crisis Leadership of the Bush Presidency: Advisory Capacity and Presidential Performance in the Acute Stages of the 9/11 and Katrina Crises


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We would like to thank Arjen Boin, Allan McConnell, Charles Parker, Thomas Preston, Bengt Sundelius, and PSQ's anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Paul ‘t Hart is a professor of political science in the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, and professor of public administration in the Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht University. His major research interests include public leadership, political group dynamics, crisis management, policy evaluation. and public accountability.

Karen Tindall is a doctoral candidate in the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. Her major research interests include leadership, crisis management, and foreign policy.

Christer Brown is an analyst at the National Center for Crisis Management Research and Training, Swedish National Defence College, and a doctoral candidate at Nijmegen Institute of Management at Radboud University in the Netherlands.


This paper examines the operation of the presidential advisory system during the 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina crises in order to explain the marked differences in presidential crisis leadership performance during the acute phase of both crises. It first presents a conceptual framework for the systematic study of “crisis advisory configurations” around presidents, based on an integrated review of the advisory systems and crisis management literatures. Second, the framework is applied to George W. Bush's performance in three crucial crisis leadership task domains—sense making, decision making, and meaning making. The article concludes by identifying key challenges of building crisis management capacity around heads of government such as the U.S. president.