Administrative Agency Investigations

The three major purposes for agency investigations are rule making, licensing, and adjudications.  Whether or not to conduct an investigation is within the discretion of the agency. The agency possesses a variety of information gathering techniques.

Investigations are inquisitorial proceedings conducted by administrative bodies for the purpose of acquiring various items of information.  Agencies investigate for other reasons as well, including supervision and direction; determination and clarification of general agency policy; and recommendations of new legislation to Congress.  Agencies may also begin proceedings simply to determine whether a law is being violated.

Agencies have broad statutory authority to investigate.  Although such information is acquired voluntarily, agencies are empowered to use a wide range of information-gathering techniques.  Most investigations are initiated by the agency itself.  The courts will generally hold that the decision to investigate or not to investigate is a matter committed by law to the discretion of the agency.  Agencies may organize field studies, hold private conferences and consultations, conduct inspections, and require periodic reports from business firms.  Whatever the reason, investigations have one primary purpose: to gather information.  In the absence of words in the statute prescribing the manner in which investigations are to be held, the Administrator has a right to determine how the investigation is to be conducted.

In the opinion of the courts, investigations contemplate procedures that are less formal and more flexible than procedures accompanying adjudicatory hearings.  Investigations are nonpartisan and non adversary.  Moreover, no matter how formal, investigatory proceedings that do not lead to the issuance of an order containing the element of “final disposition” do not constitute “adjudication” as that term is defined by the Administrative Procedure Act.

Lastly, where a statute requires an agency to investigate, no right to an adjudicatory hearing arises.  The purpose of an investigatory proceeding, is to discover and procure evidence, not to prove a pending charge or complaint, but upon which to make one if, in the agency’s judgment, the facts discovered should justify doing so.  However, an investigation does not determine guilt or innocence.


Inside Administrative Agency Investigations