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A rule of order having the force of law, prescribed by a superior or competent authority, relating to the actions of those under the authority's control.

Regulations are issued by various federal government departments and agencies to carry out the intent of legislation enacted by Congress. Administrative agencies, often called "the bureaucracy," perform a number of different government functions, including rule making. The rules issued by these agencies are called regulations and are designed to guide the activity of those regulated by the agency and also the activity of the agency's employees. Regulations also function to ensure uniform application of the law.

Administrative agencies began as part of the Executive Branch of government and were designed to carry out the law and the president's policies. Congress, however, retains primary control over the organization of the bureaucracy, including the power to create and eliminate agencies and confirm presidential nominations for staffing the agencies. Congress has also created administrative agencies that exist outside of the executive branch and are independent of presidential control. President franklin d. roosevelt and the New Deal plan he implemented created many new administrative agencies. Over the years administrative agencies have become more powerful participants in the overall federal government structure as Congress and the president have delegated more legislative and executive duties to them. Administrative agencies have also become responsible for many judicial functions.

The judicial and legislative functions of administrative agencies are not exactly like those of the courts or the legislature, but they are similar. Because regulations are not the work of the legislature, they do not have the effect of law in theory; but in practice, regulations can have an important effect in determining the outcome of cases involving regulatory activity. Much of the legislative power vested in administrative agencies comes from the fact that Congress can only go so far in enacting legislation or establishing guidelines for the agencies to follow. Language that is intrinsically vague and cannot speak for every factual situation to which it is applied, as well as political factors, dictate that the agencies have much to interpret and decide in enforcing legislation. For example, Securities laws prohibit insiders from profiting against the public interest, but it is left to the applicable Administrative Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, to define "public interest." The Food and Drug Administration, another administrative agency, must keep unsafe food and ineffective drug products off the market, but further administrative refinement and interpretation is necessary for the agency to determine what products are "unsafe" or "ineffective." The Federal Communications Commission must interpret laws regulating broadcasting; the Treasury Department issues regulations interpreting the Internal Revenue Code; and the Board of Governors of the federal reserve System issues regulations governing the actions of Federal Reserve banks. The many other administrative agencies and departments make regulations to provide clarity and guidance in their respective areas of the law.

Administrative agencies carry out legislation in several ways, including enacting regulations to carry out what the agency believes is the legislative intent. Agencies generally formulate proposed regulations and then open up rule-making proceedings in which interested parties can testify and comment on them. The agency then issues a rule or policy that binds the agency in future cases just as statutory law does.

The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, 5 U.S.C.A. § 551 et seq., with its subsequent amendments, was designed to make administrative agencies accountable for their rule making and other government functions. It imposed a number of procedural requirements designed to make procedures among agencies more uniform. In administrative rule-making proceedings formal hearings must be held, interested parties must be given the opportunity to comment on proposed rules, and the adopted formal rules must be published in the Federal Register. After being published in the Federal Register, the regulations are subsequently arranged by subject in the Code of Federal Regulations. The Administrative Procedure Act has been criticized, however, because it contains a number of exemptions that allow the agencies discretion in whether or not they strictly adhere to the guidelines established in the act. Organizations such as the American Bar Association are working toward eliminating such discretion in administrative agencies.

Further readings

Janosik, Robert J., ed. 1987. Encyclopedia of the American Judicial System. Vol. II. New York: Scribner.


Administrative Agency; Administrative Law and Procedure; Code of Federal Regulations; Federal Register; Public Administrative Bodies; Quasi-Legislative.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1 a form of Act of the EUROPEAN UNION that has general application. A regulation, unlike a decision, applies to more than an identifiable or defined limited number of persons. It is binding in its entirety, unlike a directive, which simply sets out the aim to be achieved. It is directly applicable and does not require to be subsequently enacted in a Member State. It can also have direct effect. Much of the implementation of the COMMON AGRICULTURAL POLICY is done in this way, and regulations are frequently very detailed, dealing with technical matters.
2 a form of delegated legislation in the UK.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
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The law orders NRC to recover "approximately" 100 percent of its budget by assessing fees on those it regulates. NRC initially exempted university research and training reactors, on grounds that such educational institutions could not reasonably pass these new costs to their customers, usually students.