You are here

System under Stress

System under Stress
The Challenge to 21st Century Governance

Third Edition


March 2013 | 192 pages | CQ Press

In the third edition of his award-winning System under Stress, Donald Kettl looks at the latest stress to hit the system—the financial crisis of 2008. In his brief, gripping narrative, Kettl assesses how well the U.S. political system responds under extraordinary pressure and explores whether the government can effectively handle the next challenge. A well-known scholar, commentator, and writer in the areas of federalism and governance, Kettl asks the hard questions, and while making a credible and persuasive argument, crafts a case study that works in classrooms up and down the political science and public administration curriculum.

In earlier editions, Kettl looked at the massive reorganization under the Department of Homeland Security, a response to the system-wide coordination problems brought to light on 9/11. Better planning, new leadership, and far-reaching reform were to demonstrate that the government would be prepared for the next disaster. Sadly, the catastrophic response to Hurricane Katrina showed how this restructuring did not bring about the long-term policy changes necessary for dealing with threats of this size. In this new edition, Kettl assesses the havoc created by "too big to fail" banks, and even ordinary home buyers, borrowing well beyond their means. Regulators were no match for the banks' speculative betting and highly complicated financial investments. Is the government now better prepared to combat fiscal malfeasance? Can our regulatory structure effectively predict and manage future financial crises?

1. Policy Lightning
2. Coordination Dilemmas
3. Reshaping the Bureaucracy
4. Federalism Jumble
5. The Political Costs of Managing Risk
6. Balancing Liberty with Protection
7. Goldfish Bowls
Key features


  • The third edition examines the latest “stress” to the system, weaving in analysis of the financial crisis in 2008. Kettl discusses the response to the crisis and ensuing recession to explore how well governing institutions have handled another major stress to the system.


  • Set up as a case study, this best-seller uses a theoretical argument and is full of great storytelling that gets readers involved in big ideas about how government works.
  • Combining rigorous analysis with hard-edged realism, this book gets readers thinking about the challenges facing every level of government.
  • Hitting on big themes discussed in American Government and Public Administration courses, this book is appropriate for courses up and down the curriculum.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

For instructors

Select a Purchasing Option

Rent or Buy eBook
ISBN: 9781483304779

ISBN: 9781452239903