What are administrative agencies?

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 16, 2021Fact Checked

The United States government is big, very big. Under the Constitution, the ability to make laws is vested in Congress. However, since 1789, at the end of the Revolutionary War, Congress has recognized that there are some things too large in scale for them to devote their time to. In 1789, they created a department for the distribution of aid for wounded Revolutionary War soldiers and widows. While this agency was only temporary, it did effectively form an example for what would become standard government practice. Modernly, there are thousands of federal, state, and local administrative agencies running various operations throughout the government.


The first permanent federal administrative agency was the Interstate Commerce Commission. It was founded in 1887 and was created to regulate business between states. In 1907, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was formed to solve federal crimes such as sabotage, espionage, kidnapping, extortion, interstate gambling, and the assault or killing of a federal officer. After 1907 the concept of administrative agencies expanded to new levels. Modernly, the list of federal agencies includes the Federal Trade Commission, Social Security Administration, Federal Communication Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

These federal agencies have the power to create their own laws that are specific to their department. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides clean water, air, and soil standards for the states. Additionally, they have strict laws regarding harmful chemical use and how it must be disposed of so as not to cause harm. States are required to have at least as high of standards as the EPA with regard to water and air purity. If they do not, then a state is fined by the EPA for violating their policies.


It has become the trend that states will form identical administrative agencies to the federal government and ensure that federal administrative policies are followed. For instance, each state has their own EPA, with that state’s set standards for clean air and water. While the standards must be at least as high as the federal EPA, many states will set theirs higher, depending on factors within that particular state. Additionally, states will create their own administrative agencies to address local concerns. For instance, California has a Disaster Relief Agency designed to create plans for public safety and rebuilding in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

How Administrative Agencies Work

Unlike the court system that must remain neutral to the parties in a case, the entire purpose of an administrative agency is to dispense assistance and aid to citizens who fall within its rules and regulations. For instance, a disabled veteran simply fills out the forms to the Veteran’s Administrative Agency and will be approved or disapproved. The problem in this system lies in the Administrative Agency’s ability to reject requests from citizens and the lack of appeal process available thereafter. This is where many Constitutional arguments are founded. 

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

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