Almost everything the government does through its administrative, regulatory, or law enforcement functions is via a government agency. Government agencies exist at both the federal and state level. The role of each government agency varies depending on the administrative law and purpose governing the existence of each agency. There is no exact legislative definition of what constitutes a government agency and the term seems to be a catch-all phrase to define a program or organization created by the government to serve a government function or purpose. Both federal and state government agencies are usually created through legislative decree. At the federal level, some agencies are created by executive order. A government agency may or may not have the word, “agency,” as part of its official name.
Many federal government agencies are referred to as “independent federal agencies.” This designation generally means that the agency can exercise some degree of independence from the President’s control. Among the well-known independent federal agencies are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Some government agencies are sub-units of cabinet-level departments, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS, which is a government agency under the Department of the Treasury, serves the purpose of collecting taxes and administering federal tax law.
Government agencies serve as means for the government to function effectively in addressing real world issues and problems. These agencies serve a huge breadth of purposes: some agencies offer financial assistance and employment help to those in need while others are tasked with law enforcement. There are government agencies for addressing public health concerns and those that maintain our national parks.
Many state governments created state-level government agencies named and patterned after their federal counterparts. For instance, after the federal government created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each state created their own state-specific EPA as well, which set the state’s standards on clean air and water. That said, there are purely federal government agencies with no state level equivalent and others which are state-specific government agencies. Let’s explore this a bit further.
Among the federal agencies with no state level equivalent include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Some federal government agencies have no state counterpart as their functions are derived from powers exclusive to the federal government. In the case of ICE, which is the second largest criminal investigative agency in the U.S. government after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), no state has the authority to enforce national immigration and customs law. Although ICE and the ATF are separate federal government agencies, there are instances of law enforcement cooperation between the two agencies since both serve that function, albeit in different capacities.
Some government agencies serve state specific functions and their roles may vary from state to state. For example, each state has their own attorney general’s office. This government agency serves as the legal representation for that state. The attorney general brings actions in court on behalf of the state. Each state can also create their own government agencies as they see fit. In California, subsistence payments to poor families, child welfare, and free health insurance for those under the poverty line is administered through the California Department of Social Services, a state government agency. In the state of Florida, similar services are provided through the Florida Department of Children and Families. States are not required to be uniform in creating their government agencies.
A lawyer who is familiar with the workings of government agencies performs a variety of different functions. Very often, these lawyers are advocates for the people. Government agency is not a specific practice area of the law, but many different legal practice areas will routinely deal with government agencies and the regulations pertinent to each one. In general, a lawyer who has dealings with government agencies will understand the regulatory obstacles and requirements of the specific government agency in their practice area. For instance, a tax lawyer will be intimately familiar with the arcane rules promulgated by the IRS and an employment lawyer will be familiar with the regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (better known as the EEOC).
Each of us will routinely need to deal with the government in our everyday lives. This is simply unavoidable. Whenever you pay taxes, apply for unemployment benefits, get a Driver’s License, register to vote, or fight a ticket, you deal with a government agency. Sometimes, dealings with government agencies do not go according to plan. When that happens, a lawyer who understands the rules and regulations of the government agency you’re at odds with can be a very valuable asset to have on your side. Sometimes we need help dealing with the bureaucratic obstacles presented by the government, such as the immigration and naturalization process. In that circumstance, an immigration lawyer can be an incredible resource in ensuring a smooth process when dealing with the complicated laws administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a federal government agency.
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