ACUS and the APA: Celebrating 75 Years of the Administrative Procedure Act

President Truman signed the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) into law on June 11, 1946—the result of a long, fierce compromise to standardize and provide a basic framework for the procedures used by federal agencies. 

Running just nine pages long, its 12 short sections were intended, according to the Attorney General’s Manual on the APA (1947), to “require agencies to keep the public currently informed of their organization, procedures and rules,” “provide for public participation in the rule making process,” “prescribe uniform standards for the conduct of formal rule making and adjudicatory proceedings,” and “restate the law of judicial review.”

As we explored in a 2019 series, the origin stories of the APA and ACUS are intertwined. Both ACUS and the APA trace their foundations to Brownlow Commission, which President Roosevelt convened in 1936 to study the organization and management of the executive branch, and the Attorney General’s Committee on Administrative Procedure, which President Roosevelt convened in 1939 to study “the need for procedural reform.”

These and several commissions and temporary conferences that followed the enactment of the APA laid the groundwork for a permanent office or agency to study and recommend improvements to the design of federal administrative procedure set forth in the APA. Some explicitly called for the establishment of such a permanent agency. “This is not a new idea,” one report observed. “It has been advocated by every group which has made a careful study of administrative procedure.”

That agency became a reality in 1964, when President Johnson signed the Administrative Conference Act into law. Over the nearly six decades since, ACUS efforts have resulted in the development and adoption of best practices to help agencies implement and operationalize the APA. A few have resulted in legislation supplementing or even amending the APA itself. These initiatives have been central to the APA’s 75-year project to promote fairness, participation, and openness in the administration of federal programs.

To commemorate the APA’s 75th anniversary, we invited five experts to reflect on ACUS’s connection to the foundational statute of federal administrative law. We’re pleased to present their essays here: