Administrative Law Process:

Better Management Is Needed

FPCD-78-25: Published: May 15, 1978. Publicly Released: May 15, 1978.

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More than 1,000 Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) serve in 28 federal agencies as quasi-judicial officers presiding at formal administrative hearings to resolve disputes. The federal executive departments and agencies collectively process a larger case load than U.S. courts, affect the rights of more citizens, and employ more than twice as many ALJ as there are active judges in federal trial courts. The Administrative Procedure Act sought to ensure the ALJ judicial capability and objectivity by precluding agencies from evaluating their performance and by assigning responsibility for determining their qualifications, compensation, and tenure to the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

Although the adjudicative process was established to resolve conflicts promptly and fairly, timely decisions are not being made because the process is burdened with extensive agency review of ALJ decisions and, in many instances, overformalization. These factors also increased costs and raised questions concerning the impartiality of agency decisions and the need for a highly formalized mechanism to resolve relatively simple disputes. The Administrative Procedure Act is not specific regarding responsibility for ALJ personnel management functions; as a result, little is done to monitor ALJ performance. Agencies are reluctant to attempt to manage ALJ for fear it will be interpreted as an infringement on ALJ independence. CSC similarly has been reluctant to become actively involved in ALJ personnel management. The results have been costly delays in the administrative adjudicatory process and less than desirable performance by an undetermined number of ALJ.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Administrative Procedure Act to: (1) assign responsibility for periodic evaluation of ALJ performance to a specific organization; (2) clarify the extent to which CSC can perform its normal personnel management functions in the case of ALJ; and (3) establish an initial probationary period of up to 3 years and, therby, eliminate immediate, virtually guaranteed, appointment and tenure. Congress should also: (1) establish criteria for deciding what degree of formality is required to provide fair decisions and amend legislation to clarify the agencies' power to adopt streamlined adjudication procedures; (2) amend other legislation as necessary to provide for standards of review; and (3) see that each agency employing ALJ has taken steps to establish performance standards before additional ALJ are given to agencies. CSC should: (1) encourage and assist the Administrative Conference in efforts to develop an ALJ case load accounting system; and (2) reexamine the need for selective certification at agencies where it is used and evaluate future requests for its use on a case-by-case basis.


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