You are here


15 January, 2016 - 09:30

Trial-type hearings generally impose on particular parties liabilities based on past or present facts. Because these cases will serve as precedents, they are a partial guide to future conduct by others. But they do not directly apply to nonparties, who may argue in a subsequent case that their conduct does not fit within the holding announced in the case. Agencies can affect future conduct far more directly by announcing rules that apply to all who come within the agency’s jurisdiction.

The acts creating most of the major federal agencies expressly grant them authority to engage in rulemaking. This means, in essence, authority to legislate. The outpouring of federal regulations has been immense. The APA directs agencies about to engage in rulemaking to give notice in the Federal Register of their intent to do so. The Federal Register is published daily, Monday through Friday, in Washington, DC, and contains notice of various actions, including announcements of proposed rulemaking and regulations as adopted. The notice must specify the time, place, and nature of the rulemaking and offer a description of the proposed rule or the issues involved. Any interested person or organization is entitled to participate by submitting written “data, views or arguments.” Agencies are not legally required to air debate over proposed rules, though they often do so.

The procedure just described is known as “informal” rulemaking. A different procedure is required for “formal” rulemaking, defined as those instances in which the enabling legislation directs an agency to make rules “on the record after opportunity for an agency hearing.” When engaging in formal rulemaking, agencies must hold an adversary hearing.

Administrative regulations are not legally binding unless they are published. Agencies must publish in the Federal Register the text of final regulations, which ordinarily do not become effective until thirty days later. Every year the annual output of regulations is collected and reprinted in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), a multivolume paperback series containing all federal rules and regulations keyed to the fifty titles of the US Code (the compilation of all federal statutes enacted by Congress and grouped according to subject).


Agencies make rules that have the same effect as laws passed by Congress and the president. But such rules (regulations) must allow for full participation by interested parties. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) governs both rulemaking and the agency enforcement of regulations, and it provides a process for fair hearings.


  1. Go to Browse the site. Find a topic that interests you, and then find a proposed regulation. Notice how comments on the proposed rule are invited.
  2. Why would there be a trial by an administrative agency? Describe the process.