Administrative Agencies: Structure, Functions, and Jurisdiction

This comprehensive guide explores the structure, functions, and jurisdiction of administrative agencies in the U.S., detailing their role in implementing and enforcing laws within the broader governmental framework.

Administrative agencies play a crucial role in the functioning of government by implementing and enforcing laws. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the structure, functions, and jurisdiction of administrative agencies in the United States. It aims to offer a detailed understanding of how these entities operate within the broader legal and governmental framework.


Administrative agencies are specialized governmental bodies established to oversee and regulate specific areas of public policy, law, and administration. They are empowered by legislative acts and operate under the executive branch of government. These agencies are essential for the efficient and effective implementation of laws and policies.

Structure of Administrative Agencies

Creation and Organization

Administrative agencies are created by legislative acts, which define their structure, powers, and functions. The enabling statute, also known as the organic act, outlines the agency's mandate and the scope of its authority. Agencies can be established at both the federal and state levels.

Federal Agencies

Federal agencies are created by acts of Congress and are part of the executive branch. They are often organized into departments, each headed by a Secretary who is a member of the President's Cabinet. Examples include the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

State Agencies

State agencies operate under the authority of state legislatures and governors. They are structured similarly to federal agencies but focus on state-specific issues. For example, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law oversees administrative procedures within the state.

Internal Structure

Administrative agencies typically have a hierarchical structure, with a head or director at the top, followed by various divisions or bureaus that handle specific functions. The internal organization may include:

  • Commissioners or Board Members: Some agencies are governed by a board or commission, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
  • Administrative Law Judges (ALJs): These judges conduct hearings and make decisions on disputes involving the agency's regulations.
  • Staff and Support Personnel: Agencies employ various professionals, including lawyers, economists, scientists, and administrative staff.

Functions of Administrative Agencies

Administrative agencies perform several key functions, including rulemaking, enforcement, and adjudication. These functions enable agencies to implement and enforce laws effectively.


Rulemaking is the process by which administrative agencies create regulations. These regulations have the force of law and are essential for the detailed implementation of legislative statutes.

Types of Rulemaking

  • Informal Rulemaking: Also known as "notice-and-comment" rulemaking, this process involves publishing a proposed rule in the Federal Register, allowing the public to comment, and then issuing a final rule.

  • Formal Rulemaking: This process requires a trial-like hearing with witness testimony and cross-examination. It is less common and typically used for more complex or controversial regulations.

  • Source: Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. Subchapter II)


Administrative agencies are responsible for enforcing the laws and regulations they create. This involves monitoring compliance, conducting inspections, and taking enforcement actions against violators.

Enforcement Mechanisms

  • Inspections and Audits: Agencies may conduct regular inspections or audits to ensure compliance with regulations.
  • Penalties and Sanctions: Agencies can impose fines, revoke licenses, or take other disciplinary actions against entities that violate regulations.
  • Litigation: Agencies may bring legal actions in court to enforce compliance or seek remedies for violations.


Adjudication is the process by which administrative agencies resolve disputes. This can involve hearings before administrative law judges (ALJs) or other adjudicatory bodies within the agency.

Types of Adjudication

  • Formal Adjudication: Involves a trial-like hearing with evidence presentation, witness testimony, and a written decision by an ALJ.

  • Informal Adjudication: Involves less formal procedures, such as negotiations or settlement conferences.

  • Source: Administrative Procedure Act - acus wiki

Jurisdiction of Administrative Agencies

Jurisdiction refers to the authority of an administrative agency to make decisions and take actions within a specific area of law or policy. Jurisdiction can be defined by subject matter, geography, or the type of parties involved.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the specific areas of law or policy that an agency is authorized to regulate. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has jurisdiction over environmental protection and pollution control.

Geographic Jurisdiction

Geographic jurisdiction defines the physical area within which an agency can exercise its authority. Federal agencies have nationwide jurisdiction, while state agencies have jurisdiction within their respective states.

Personal Jurisdiction

Personal jurisdiction refers to the authority of an agency over specific individuals or entities. This can include businesses, organizations, or individuals subject to the agency's regulations.

Interaction with Other Branches of Government

Administrative agencies interact with the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government in various ways.

Legislative Oversight

Congress and state legislatures have the authority to oversee administrative agencies. This includes:

  • Creating and Amending Statutes: Legislatures can create, modify, or repeal the enabling statutes that establish agencies.

  • Budgetary Control: Legislatures control agency funding through the appropriations process.

  • Hearings and Investigations: Legislatures can conduct hearings and investigations to monitor agency activities and ensure accountability.

  • Source: Congress's Authority to Influence and Control Executive Branch

Executive Control

The executive branch, headed by the President or state governors, has significant control over administrative agencies. This includes:

  • Appointments: The President or governor appoints agency heads and commissioners, often with legislative approval.

  • Executive Orders: The executive can issue orders directing agency actions or priorities.

  • Management and Coordination: The executive branch coordinates the activities of various agencies to ensure cohesive policy implementation.

  • Source: The Executive Branch |

Judicial Review

Courts have the authority to review the actions and decisions of administrative agencies. This ensures that agencies act within their legal authority and follow due process.

Standards of Review

  • Arbitrary and Capricious Standard: Courts will overturn agency actions that are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.

  • Substantial Evidence Standard: Courts will uphold agency decisions if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record.

  • De Novo Review: In some cases, courts may review agency decisions without deferring to the agency's findings.

  • Source: Court Role and Structure | United States Courts


Administrative agencies are vital components of the government, responsible for implementing and enforcing laws across various sectors. Understanding their structure, functions, and jurisdiction is essential for comprehending how laws are applied and enforced in practice. By providing detailed regulations, enforcing compliance, and adjudicating disputes, administrative agencies ensure that legislative policies are effectively translated into action.

For further information, readers are encouraged to consult the following official resources:

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Von Wooding

Von Wooding

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