Federal Administrative Law

Federal government agencies are generally established by law or executive order. For example, Congress has passed laws setting up such federal agencies as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Office of Homeland Security.

Rulemaking Authority of Federal Agencies

Congress has delegated broad powers to federal regulatory agencies to adopt rules and regulations. For example, the FDA has adopted regulations detailing what must be included in labels for over-the-counter medications. The Federal Administrative Procedure Act (FAPA) is a federal law that sets out the procedures to be followed by agencies in adopting rules and regulations. The goal of FAPA is uniformity and openness in federal agency procedures.

Federal agencies may use an informal method or a formal method for adopting rules. In the informal method, a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. Interested persons are given an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule. The agency then publishes a final rule, which has the force of law. Under formal rulemaking, the agency must comply with the full hearing procedures set out in FAPA.

Adjudicatory Authority of Federal Agencies

Federal agencies also have authority to hold administrative hearings and to make decisions or issue orders that have the force of law. FAPA specifies the procedures to be used in holding administrative hearings. In general, a person who is a party to an administrative hearing is entitled to due process, which means adequate notice of the hearing and an opportunity to present the person’s position.

For example, the EPA has authority to require hazardous waste facilities to disclose certain information and to monitor and test for hazardous waste. The EPA can inspect such facilities. If it discovers violations, the EPA can issue a notice of violation to the facility. If the facility fails to explain its actions, the EPA can file an administrative complaint seeking a compliance order, suspension, or revocation of the facility’s permit, and a penalty. The owner or operator of the facility is entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge and may appeal an adverse decision to an appeal board.

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