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Agency Delegation to Subordinates under Federal Law

Federal administrative agencies receive their powers from Congress and federal law authorizes administrative agencies to delegate some of their powers and functions to their subordinates.  According to the authority vested in a head of the department by the Congress, s/he can assign powers to subordinates to take final decisions on delegated matters.

According to 5 USCS § 302, the head of a particular department or agency can delegate the following actions to the subordinates:

  • To take final action on matters pertaining to the employment[i], direction, and general administration of personnel under his/her agency;
  • To authorize the publication of advertisements, notices, or proposals under section 3702 of title 44 of the United States Code Service, where written authority of the head is required to publish advertisements or notices in a newspaper.

Each delegation will be considered valid and within the limits only if there is written authorization, approval and full sanction from the head of the departments.[ii]

It is presumed that if the delegation exceeds the authority granted to the agency by the statute then the action of the subordinate will be considered beyond the authority or ultra vires.  It is the discretion of the Congress to decide the extent of the power of the agency as well as to which individual in the agency the power to delegate is to be given.  Therefore, under federal law most of the time the power of agencies to delegate depends on the interpretation of the concerned statute.

[i] Burnap v. United States, 252 U.S. 512 (U.S. 1920)

[ii] Medkirk v. United States, 45 Ct. Cl. 395, 401 (Ct. Cl. 1910)

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