Administrative Law, Filter Failure, and Information Capture

Duke Law Journal, Vol. 59, p. 1321, 2010

Energy Center Research Paper No. 07-10

112 Pages Posted: 4 May 2010 Last revised: 2 Sep 2010

See all articles by Wendy E. Wagner

Wendy E. Wagner

University of Texas at Austin – School of Law

Date Written: April 2, 2010


There are no provisions in administrative law for regulating the flow of information coming into or leaving the system, or for ensuring that regulatory participants can keep up with a rising tide of issues, details, and technicalities. Indeed, a number of doctrinal refinements, originally intended to ensure that executive branch decisions are made in the sunlight, inadvertently create incentives for participants to overwhelm the administrative system with complex information, causing much of the decisionmaking processes to remain, for all practical purposes, in the dark. As these agency decisions become increasingly obscure to all but the most well-informed insiders, administrative accountability is undermined as entire sectors of affected parties find they can no longer afford to participate in this expensive system. Pluralistic oversight, productive judicial review, and opportunities for intelligent agency decisionmaking are all put under significant strain in a system that refuses to manage - and indeed tends to encourage - excessive information. This Article first discusses how parties can capture the regulatory process using information that allows them to control or at least dominate regulatory outcomes (the information capture phenomenon). It then traces the problem back to a series of failures by Congress and the courts to require some filtering of the information flowing through the system (filter failure). Rather than filtering information, the incentives tilt in the opposite direction and encourage participants to err on the side of providing too much rather than too little information. Evidence is then offered to show how this uncontrolled and excessive information is taking a toll on the basic objectives of administrative governance. The Article closes with a series of unconventional but relatively straightforward reforms that offer some hope of bringing information capture under control.

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Wendy E., Administrative Law, Filter Failure, and Information Capture (April 2, 2010). Duke Law Journal, Vol. 59, p. 1321, 2010, Energy Center Research Paper No. 07-10, Available at SSRN:

Wendy E. Wagner (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin – School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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