Administrative Record: Compilation, Importance, and Review

Explore the compilation, importance, and review of administrative records, essential for agency decision-making and judicial review, ensuring transparency, accountability, and fairness in the administrative process.


The administrative record is a crucial component in the administrative law process. It serves as the foundation for agency decision-making and is essential for judicial review. This guide will explore the compilation, importance, and review of administrative records, providing a comprehensive understanding of their role in the administrative process.

What is an Administrative Record?

An administrative record is the collection of documents and materials that an agency compiles when making a decision. It includes all the evidence and information considered by the agency in reaching its decision. The administrative record is essential for ensuring transparency and accountability in the administrative process.

Key Components of an Administrative Record

  1. Documents and Evidence: This includes reports, studies, data, and other materials that the agency considered.
  2. Public Comments: Any comments or feedback from the public that were submitted during the rulemaking process.
  3. Internal Memoranda: Internal communications and memoranda that reflect the agency's deliberations.
  4. Decision Documents: The final decision or rule issued by the agency, along with any supporting documentation.

Compilation of the Administrative Record

The process of compiling an administrative record is governed by various statutes, regulations, and guidelines. It is essential to ensure that the record is complete and accurate, as it forms the basis for judicial review.

Steps in Compiling an Administrative Record

  1. Gathering Relevant Documents: Agencies must collect all documents and materials that were considered in the decision-making process.
  2. Organizing the Record: The documents must be organized in a logical and coherent manner, often chronologically or by subject matter.
  3. Indexing: An index should be created to facilitate easy navigation of the record.
  4. Certification: The record must be certified by an appropriate agency official to ensure its completeness and accuracy.

Guidelines and Best Practices

Several agencies and organizations have developed guidelines for compiling administrative records. These guidelines provide detailed instructions on the process and help ensure consistency and thoroughness.

Importance of the Administrative Record

The administrative record is vital for several reasons. It ensures transparency, accountability, and fairness in the administrative process. It also provides the basis for judicial review, allowing courts to evaluate the agency's decision-making process.

Transparency and Accountability

The administrative record provides a transparent account of the agency's decision-making process. It allows the public to see the evidence and information that the agency considered, promoting accountability and trust in the administrative process.

Basis for Judicial Review

The administrative record is the primary source of information for courts when reviewing agency decisions. It allows the court to determine whether the agency's decision was based on substantial evidence and whether it was arbitrary or capricious.

Ensuring Fairness

By providing a complete and accurate account of the decision-making process, the administrative record helps ensure that the agency's decision was fair and based on all relevant information.

Review of the Administrative Record

The review of the administrative record is a critical aspect of the judicial review process. Courts rely on the record to evaluate the agency's decision and determine whether it was made in accordance with the law.

Standards of Review

Courts apply different standards of review depending on the nature of the agency's decision. The most common standards are:

  1. Arbitrary and Capricious Standard: Under this standard, the court evaluates whether the agency's decision was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.
  2. Substantial Evidence Standard: This standard applies to formal rulemaking and adjudication. The court examines whether the agency's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record.
  3. De Novo Review: In some cases, the court may conduct a de novo review, meaning it will consider the matter anew, giving no deference to the agency's decision.

Scope of Review

The scope of judicial review is generally limited to the administrative record. Courts are not permitted to consider evidence outside the record unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as allegations of bad faith or improper behavior by the agency.

Supplementing the Record

In some cases, parties may seek to supplement the administrative record with additional evidence. This is generally allowed only if the existing record is incomplete or if there is a need to explain technical terms or complex subject matter.

The compilation and review of administrative records are governed by various statutes, regulations, and case law. Understanding the legal framework is essential for ensuring compliance and effective advocacy.

Administrative Procedure Act (APA)

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is the primary statute governing the administrative process. It establishes the procedures for rulemaking, adjudication, and judicial review of agency actions.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides the public with the right to access government records, including administrative records. FOIA promotes transparency and accountability by allowing the public to request and obtain information from federal agencies.

Case Law

Several landmark cases have shaped the legal framework for administrative records. These cases provide important precedents and guidelines for compiling and reviewing administrative records.

  • Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402 (1971): This case established the standard for judicial review of agency decisions under the arbitrary and capricious standard.
  • Camp v. Pitts, 411 U.S. 138 (1973): This case clarified the scope of judicial review and the circumstances under which courts may consider evidence outside the administrative record.

Challenges and Best Practices

Compiling and reviewing administrative records can be challenging. Agencies and practitioners must navigate complex legal requirements and ensure that the record is complete and accurate.

Common Challenges

  1. Incomplete Records: Ensuring that the record includes all relevant documents and materials can be difficult, especially in complex cases.
  2. Organizational Issues: Organizing and indexing the record in a coherent manner is essential for effective review.
  3. Legal Compliance: Agencies must comply with various statutes, regulations, and guidelines when compiling the record.

Best Practices

  1. Early Planning: Begin compiling the record early in the decision-making process to ensure that all relevant documents are included.
  2. Clear Documentation: Maintain clear and detailed documentation of the decision-making process, including internal memoranda and public comments.
  3. Regular Training: Provide regular training for agency staff on the legal requirements and best practices for compiling administrative records.


The administrative record is a fundamental component of the administrative law process. It ensures transparency, accountability, and fairness in agency decision-making and provides the basis for judicial review. By understanding the legal framework and best practices for compiling and reviewing administrative records, agencies and practitioners can ensure compliance and effective advocacy.


  1. Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) Handbook
  2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Guidance
  3. National Park Service (NPS) Guidance
  4. Administrative Procedure Act (APA)
  5. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

By following these guidelines and best practices, agencies can ensure that their administrative records are complete, accurate, and compliant with legal requirements, thereby facilitating effective decision-making and judicial review.

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Von Wooding

Von Wooding

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