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Administrative agencies are authorities of the government other than the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, created for the purpose of administering particular legislation. They are sometimes called commissions, bureaus, boards, authorities, offices, departments, administrations, and divisions (Box, 2005). They may be created by legislative acts, by executive orders authorized by statutes, or by constitutional provisions. The powers and functions of an agency are generally contained in the legislation that created it (Breyer and Stewart, 2006).

In the last century, administrative agencies grew rapidly in the United States, and so did the activities in which they engaged and the power that they exercised (Box, 2009). Today, numerous local, state, and federal administrative agencies have a tremendous impact on American lives. They are often called “the fourth branch of government” and number at least 60 at the federal level and many dozens in each state (Feldman, 2016). Administrative and regulatory agencies directly or indirectly affect the average person much more than the judicial process does, as the following hypothetical scenario suggests (Seib, 1995).

Two spouses or partners wake up to the chiming of a smartphone that is charging. A utility company, which is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and by state utility agencies, provides the electricity to charge the phone. The couple open a weather app to get the weather report, which is probably generated by the National Weather Service, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. When they brush their teeth, they use a product (toothpaste) made by companies regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When they eat their cereal, they consume a product subject to the regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). When they get in their car to go to work, they find their seat belts, air bags, and many other safety devices mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as antipollution equipment mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We could go on with this scenario, but notice that this couple’s day has just begun, and already many administrative agencies have affected their lives. Depending on their jobs, at work they will continue to be affected by other agencies, such as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), and the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). Whether or not we realize it, administrative agencies affect all our lives in countless ways.

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