The ALJ’s Decision
The ALJ questions witnesses, the agency staff, and the outside parties. The ALJ role is to ensure that a full and balanced record is developed to aid in making his or her decision, and for the agency to use in the review of the ALJ’s decision. When the proceeding is completed, the ALJ makes a decision and that becomes part of the record. Unlike the decision of a judge in a court proceeding, the ALJ’s decision is not final. It is legally only a recommendation to the agency director as to the best way to proceed. In most cases the agency will adopt the ALJ’s recommendation, but it is not bound to. In federal agencies, the head of the agency is free to come to a different conclusion, based on the record, and to make a final agency rule that is different from that of the ALJ. In some circumstances the agency provides an internal appeal procedure for ALJ determinations. In some states the administrative hearing process is done outside of the agency and the ALJ’s decision is final. There are procedures for appealing agency decisions in the courts.