Administrative Law Article 128 Harv. L. Rev. 805

Uncovering Coordinated Interagency Adjudication



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Administrative adjudication often involves interagency coordination. This Article establishes that this phenomenon, which it terms “coordinated interagency adjudication,” exists in many areas of public law with large administrative adjudication caseloads. These areas include immigration and customs, general employment policy and employment discrimination, domestic security, and health and safety. Interagency adjudication requires special attention because of the rule-of-law and jurisdictional matters implicated by the extension and coordination of adjudication across institutional boundaries.

The aim of coordinated interagency adjudication is to employ the resources of multiple agencies to improve determinations of statutory violations or of administrative claims for benefits. However, coordinated administrative adjudication across agencies may have problematic consequences. For example, in the area of immigration, poorly administered coordination between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice caused gross violations of the rights of asylum seekers and mentally incompetent noncitizens. These events, in turn, led to two recent high-profile class action lawsuits against the government. Just as importantly, the phenomenon of coordinated interagency adjudication highlights broader questions concerning the reach of judicial review of administrative activity and the breadth of agencies’ authority to determine their own jurisdiction.

Despite the significance of interagency coordination to large swaths of administrative adjudication and the complications it has caused in the immigration context, scholars, the courts, and even the executive branch itself remain relatively unaware of it. This Article remedies this lack of awareness. It brings to light coordinated interagency adjudication processes by presenting instances of this phenomenon in a comprehensive typology involving a number of different executive branch agencies.

In addition, it argues that, because of the complexities of adjudication across agency boundaries, these processes escape the evaluation necessary to ensure their quality. Therefore, executive branch oversight is required both to prevent coordination fiascos such as those wrought in the immigration context and to ensure that agencies remain within reasonable jurisdictional bounds. As such, this Article proposes the establishment of context-specific, narrowly focused, ex ante executive branch oversight of coordinated adjudication processes.