Administrative Procedure Act

Enacted in 1946, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C. §§551 et seq.) is the basic law governing federal administrative agencies. The APA was born out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's ( 1882–1945 ) New Deal, a collection of federal programs enacted in the 1930s that were intended to address the Great Depression. The New Deal resulted in a rapid expansion of the federal administrative state. As for the individual states, each has its own administrative procedure act, some modeled in part on the Uniform Law Commission's recommended State Administrative Procedure Act of 1981 ( revised in 2010 ).

In 1936, responding to criticism of the authorities in charge of newly created federal agencies and their lack of accountability, President Roosevelt appointed the Committee on Administrative Management. In its report of 1937, this committee identified problems with separation of powers, coordination, and executive oversight. Although several of the committee's recommendations were adopted, the changes did not fully remedy the problems. In response to continuing concern, President Roosevelt delegated the authority to investigate the administrative process to Attorney General Homer Cummings, who established the Attorney General's Committee on Administrative Procedure. One of the recommendations of this committee was to enact comprehensive legislation. Although a bill was quickly drafted, its enactment was delayed by World War II. Subsequently, the APA made its way through both houses of Congress and was executed by President Harry S. Truman on June 11, 1946.

The APA applies to every authority of the United States except Congress, the courts, US territories and possessions, the District of Columbia, military commissions and courts martial, and the military in times of war and when present in occupied territories. Other specific exceptions exist—for example, as a constitutional officer, the president of the United States is also exempt.

The APA governs administrative procedure. Substantive administrative law is established elsewhere, most commonly in statutes that establish and define the authorities of agencies, commonly known as enabling acts. The APA's most important provisions include the following requirements:

  1. Public participation in rule making. The APA distinguishes between formal rule making, which requires agencies to hold public hearings, and informal rule making, which requires agencies to solicit public comment, in writing, on proposed rules.
  2. Procedures that agencies must follow when adjudicating claims and enforcing statutes and regulations.
  3. Separation of agency authorities that establish oversight of adjudicatory, legislative, and executive functions by the appropriate branch of the US government.
  4. Judicial review, or the authority of a court to review the actions of many agency actions.
  5. Public notice of proposed rule making, final rules, agency location, and contact information, notices of hearings, and other data in the Federal Register. Final rules must be published in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Although the APA was a milestone in agency accountability and organization, concerns persist that federal administrative agencies have too much authority and that they violate separation of powers.

SEE ALSO Code of Federal Regulations ; Federal Register ; Regulation .


Gellhorn, Walter. “The Administrative Procedure Act: The Beginnings.” Virginia Law Review 72, no. 2 (1986): 219–33.

Hall, Daniel E. Administrative Law: Bureaucracy in a Democracy. 6th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2015.

US Department of Justice. Attorney General's Manual on the Administrative Procedure Act. Washington, DC, 1947. .

Daniel E. Hall
College of Professional Studies and Applied Sciences Miami University