Administrative Law FAQs
What do administrative agencies do?
What are some examples of administrative agencies?
What is the difference between executive agencies and independent agencies?
What is the purpose of administrative law?
How was administrative law developed?
How does an administrative agency make rules?
Why does an agency start an investigation?
What does an administrative law judge do?
What happens at an administrative hearing?
Can you appeal a decision after an administrative hearing?
Administrative agencies have executive, quasi-legislative, and quasi-judicial functions. The executive function involves enforcing laws created by the legislature and regulations created by the agency. The quasi-legislative function involves creating regulations through the agency rule-making process. The quasi-judicial function involves adjudicatory proceedings that address violations of laws or regulations in the area overseen by the agency. Sometimes agencies are called the fourth branch of government because they exercise all three traditional government functions.
Examples of administrative agencies include the executive departments in the President’s Cabinet, such as the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration issues retirement and disability benefits to qualifying Americans. The Food and Drug Administration sets safety standards that protect the health of consumers and patients. The National Labor Relations Board enforces laws related to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. Examples of administrative agencies at the state level include unemployment commissions, workers’ compensation boards, and professional licensing boards.
Executive agencies are directly controlled by the President, while independent agencies are relatively free from presidential control. An executive agency usually is run by a single director, while an independent agency usually is run by a board or commission with several members. Unlike the head of an executive agency, a board member at an independent agency generally cannot be removed by the President unless they have good cause. Independent agencies tend to be exempt from presidential review of their rule-making procedures, and they often submit their budgets directly to Congress.
The main purpose of administrative law consists of ensuring accountability for administrative agencies. By providing judicial review of agency actions, this body of law curbs the power of the executive branch. It also provides transparency to the public, who can see how the government is operating and can challenge any abuses of power.
Administrative law is a relatively modern area of law. It developed after the Great Depression and the New Deal of the 1930s, which witnessed the creation of numerous federal agencies by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Concern over the broad powers wielded by these agencies led to the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946. In addition to granting courts the power to review agency actions, the APA set standard procedures for agency rule-making that fostered public participation in the process.
An administrative agency first publishes a proposed rule in the Federal Register. Then, any member of the public will have an opportunity to comment on it in support or opposition. In some cases, the agency may hold a hearing on the rule at its discretion or upon request by an interested party. If the agency decides to make significant changes to the rule, it may need to give the public another opportunity to comment on it. Once the rule reaches its final form, the agency will send the rule to the Office of Administrative Law. This final step involves a review of the process of creating the rule. If the process complied with the APA, the rule will take effect and appear in the Code of Federal Regulations.
An agency investigation may be a preliminary step toward an enforcement action, following an alleged violation of a law or regulation. In other situations, an agency investigation may involve more benign goals. An agency may want to explore whether new rules need to be created or whether existing rules need to be modified. An agency also may want to investigate the circumstances surrounding a license or permit application.
An administrative law judge (ALJ) issues legally binding decisions based on their review of testimony and documentary evidence. At the federal level, an ALJ is appointed to their position following an oral and written examination. They are technically considered members of the executive branch rather than the judicial branch, but they act independently from the agency and hold substantial authority. There is no jury in administrative hearings, so an ALJ essentially conducts a hearing as a bench trial. Administrative judges at the state level sometimes have less authority than their federal counterparts.
As they would in a judicial proceeding, each party at the hearing presents evidence and arguments in their favor. The proceeding includes opening statements, documentary evidence, witness testimony, and closing statements. Each party may need to submit a brief as well. The party bringing the complaint or administrative appeal has the burden of proof. After the hearing, the ALJ usually will provide the parties with a proposed decision, to which they can object. The ALJ will consider any objections and modify the decision as they deem appropriate before it becomes final.
Yes, you can appeal a decision after an administrative hearing. This ultimately may result in review by a state or federal court, as long as you maintain a complete and accurate record of the proceedings. Courts usually grant substantial deference to agency decisions, but the standard of review varies depending on the situation. Before you get to court, however, you usually must exhaust your administrative remedies. This means that you must first pursue any internal appeal procedures provided by the agency.
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