Internal Administrative Law

69 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2018 Last revised: 9 Mar 2018

Gillian E. Metzger

Columbia University - Law School

Kevin M. Stack

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: February 5, 2018


For years, administrative law has been identified as the external review of agency action, primarily by courts. Following in the footsteps of pioneering administrative law scholars, a growing body of recent scholarship has begun to attend to the role of internal norms and structures in controlling agency action. This Article offers a conceptual and historical account of these internal forces as internal administrative law. Internal administrative law consists of the internal directives, guidance, and organizational forms through which agencies structure the discretion of their employees and presidents control the workings of the executive branch. It is the critical means for shaping the discretion of officials and ensuring accountability within agencies. Internal administrative law’s binding status in structuring agency decision marks it as a form of law.

This Article’s project is one of recovery more than invention. The decade-long debate culminating in enactment of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) reflected consistent recognition of internal controls’ contributions to agency accountability. Despite this history, judicial enforcement of the APA undermined internal administrative law and constrained its content by treating the agency’s articulation of internal norms that bind agency actors as triggering external judicial enforcement. At the same time, expanded White House control has made internal administrative law more centralized. Given the importance of internal administrative law to agency accountability and administrative legitimacy, the time has come for more sustained engagement with the idea of internal administrative law and measures to foster its development.

Suggested Citation

Metzger, Gillian E. and Stack, Kevin M., Internal Administrative Law (February 5, 2018). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 115, No. 8, 2017; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-586; Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 18-08. Available at SSRN:

Gillian E. Metzger

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
Jerome Greene Hall, Mailbox: C-11
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2667 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

Kevin M. Stack (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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