Climate Change Project

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Administrative Law

With the exception of the Defense Department and law enforcement agencies, the federal government carries out its activities through administrative agencies: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA), the Social Security Administration, and many others. The states also operate through administrative agencies. Many of these, such as state equal employment opportunity commissions, parallel federal agencies. Others, such as boards of medical examiners, have no federal counterpart.

Except for criminal laws, most of the laws passed by Congress and the state legislatures are implemented through administrative law proceedings. In addition to enforcing laws passed by the legislatures, administrative agencies flesh out these laws with regulations. Some laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, leave the agencies little latitude for regulation. For others, such as those creating public health agencies, the enabling legislation is vague, giving the agency the authority to determine the scope and detail of its regulations. Agencies must satisfy specific procedural requirements when promulgating regulations. Once the regulations are promulgated, they have the force of law.

Administrative regulations may be enforced by private courts presided over by administrative judges or in the state and federal civil courts. While administrative law proceedings are less formal than civil litigation, they often involve complex issues that are expensive and time-consuming. When administrative agencies bring civil litigation to enforce their regulations, these proceedings are punitive in nature and resemble criminal proceedings. If the legislature so provides, violations of administrative regulations may also be crimes, punishable by imprisonment. For example, physicians who violate certain HCFA rules are subject to prosecution for Medicare/Medicaid fraud.

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