In order to assist the President and Congress with administering and overseeing the vast number of federal laws, Congress establishes legislative agencies and delegates rulemaking authority to them. Each legislative agency is responsible for a specific industry or public service. To create a legislative agency, Congress must pass a statute, or “enabling act.” The enabling act defines the scope of the legislative agency’s power and defines the areas or subjects within its jurisdiction. For example, the enabling act that created the United States Food and Drug Administration is the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Legislative agencies are subject to the Administrative Procedures Act, or APA. The APA was passed in 1946 and designed to establish general rules and procedures that apply to agencies’ conduct and activities. The APA also outlines the procedures that a party must follow in order to seek judicial review of an agency action. Legislative agencies that seek to promulgate new regulations must abide by the APA’s public notice and comment requirements, and they must post notices in the Federal Register.
Many of the most widely known federal agencies are legislative agencies. For example, the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, is responsible for preparing independent analyses of economic and budgetary issues to aid Congress. The CBO provides objective, non-partisan economic support, including cost estimates for legislators to include in proposed bills and to project the amount of funding available to existing programs for future years. Congress has also established the Government Accountability Office, or GAO. Led by the United States Comptroller General, the GAO maintains its own Office of General Counsel. GAO’s legal division renders legal decisions, reports, and opinions concerning bid protests in government procurement disputes.
The Library of Congress is another widely recognized legislative agency. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States and acts as the main research hub of Congress. It also maintains the largest library in the world, featuring millions of photographs, books, maps, manuscripts, and recordings. Other key legislative agencies include the Government Publishing Office and the United States Capitol Police.
Unlike executive agencies, the leaders or heads of legislative agencies are not part of the presidential Cabinet. Leaders of legislative agencies can be appointed in a variety of ways. For example, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate jointly appoint the head of the CBO. The president has the authority to appoint some legislative agency heads with the advice and consent of the senate, including the GAO and the Library of Congress. While the president enjoys broad discretion and authority to appoint and terminate the heads of executive agencies, the president must have good cause before terminating the head of a legislative agency. Examples of good cause include neglect of duties, malfeasance, and incapacity.
At the state level, legislative agencies serve similar functions and are created by similar means. A state legislature typically enacts a statute that provides for the establishment of a particular agency and delegates specific rulemaking authority to the agency. State agencies are usually subject to some form of legislative oversight, and they must continually provide reports and updates on their progress.