As Katrina bore down on New Orleans, explains Leo Bosner, a 26-year FEMA veteran, “We told these fellows [the agency’s leaders] that there was a killer hurricane” taking aim on the city. “We had done our job, but they didn’t do theirs.”16 After September 11, Congress and President Bush joined in a fundamental restructuring of the nation’s homeland security apparatus. FEMA, along with 21 other agencies, were moved into a new Department of Homeland Security. When Bush signed the bill creating the department on November 25, 2002, his promise was clear:
Today, we are taking historic action to defend the United States and protect our citizens against the dangers of a new era. With my signature, this act of Congress will create a new Department of Homeland Security, ensuring that our efforts to defend this country are comprehensive and united.
The new department will analyze threats, will guard our borders and airports, protect our critical infrastructure, and coordinate the response of our nation for future emergencies. The Department of Homeland Security will focus the full resources of the American government on the safety of the American people.17 But when it faced its first important test, the department failed. Indeed, the government’s response to Katrina ranks as perhaps the biggest failure of public administration in the nation’s history. While the storm was so immense that it surely would have swamped anything the government could have created in advance, the department’s sluggish response simply did not match the promise that Democrats and Republicans, the president and members of Congress made when they created it.