Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What is ACUS, you may ask...

Just how many federal administrative agencies are there?  Judging from the ones that start with A, there are at least several hundred. Of course, many of these agencies face similar issues and challenges, particularly relating to administrative procedure.  For this reason, various presidents since the 1950s have supported the existence of yet another federal agency with the objective of conducting studies and making recommendations for improving how agencies work.  Such an agency, the Administrative Conference of the United States, or ACUS, was established on a temporary basis first, and then permanently beginning in the mid-1960s.

Acus logoSince early this year, I have been a consultant to ACUS on its project regarding how federal agencies use Third-Party Inspections and Certification.  ACUS also currently has projects on topics such as Cost-Benefit Analysis at Independent Agencies, Government in the Sunshine Act, and Social Media in Rulemaking.  So ACUS is doing some really neat work, but you may not have heard of it.  Actually, I have found in my interviews with agency officials for my project that a lot of them haven’t heard of it either. So here’s a little ACUS-education: 

1.  ACUS has had two lives: then and now.  Although it was established as a permanent agency by the Administrative Conference Act of 1964, it was defunded in 1995. It was reauthorized in 2004 (but not funded), and then reauthorized again in 2008 and funded soon after.  Its first post-reauthorization chairman, Paul Verkuil (President Emeritus of the College of William & Mary, former Dean of the Tulane and Cardozo Law Schools, former faculty member at the University of North Carolina Law School), was confirmed by the Senate in March 2010.

2. ACUS has a 10-person Council appointed by the President that decide what projects ACUS will pursue and a 101-member Assembly that adopts formal recommendations that come out of those projects.  A consultant like me or an internal staffer prepares a report and suggests possible recommendations; an ACUS committee reviews the report and formulates proposed recommendations; and the Assembly meets twice a year to debate and vote on proposed recommendations.

3. Since its reestablishment, ACUS has made fourteen formal recommendations.  In its first lifetime, ACUS made about two hundred.  After making a recommendation, ACUS may host workshops, symposia and other events in coordination with government, academia, and industry to help agencies implement ACUS recommendations.

And just in case you want to read more about ACUS, here are two essential pieces:

Paul R. Verkuil, What the Return of the Administrative Conference of the United States Means for Administrative Law, 1 Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law 17 (2012).

Tori M. Fine, A Legislative Analysis of the Demise of the Administrative Conference of the United States, 30 Arizona State Law Journal 19 (1998).

- Lesley McAllister


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