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ABA Tax Challenge Research Guide: Background and Review


This page provides a background and brief review of sources of law, federal administrative agencies, and the source of authority for those agencies. This information provides important context to allow you to understand the origin of federal agency power and how different bodies of law intersect. For a more in-depth review of administrative law, consult the hyperlinks below.


The Arrangement of Laws and the Role of Federal Agencies

As you may already know, there are multiple sources of federal law including case law, statutes, and regulations. Here is a brief review of those concepts to help you better strategize your research moving forward:


  • Judicially-created law which defines and discusses the nuances of statutory and regulatory authority.
  • Chronologically published in reporters.
  • Arranged by topic in digests.


  • Created through legislation, 'enacted' into law.
  • Chronologically published in statutes at large or session laws.
  • Arranged topically in codes, for example the United States Code (U.S.C.) which includes the Internal Revenue Code within.


  • Administrative agencies create regulations as part of the executive branch.
  • Congress enacts enabling statutes which delegate to agencies the broad authority to promulgate rules and regulations.
  • The law governing federal administrative agencies is popularly referred to as the Administrative Procedure Act and it is codified under Title 5 of the U.S.C.

Federal agencies serve a quasi legislative role in that they promulgate regulations which serve to interpret and apply congressional acts, and also serve a quasi judicial role in that agency decisions constitute a procedure through which the laws are enforced.

Federal agencies may by affiliated with specific cabinets of the Executive Branch (such as the Department of Commerce or Department of Education), or they can be created through enabling statutes (such as the FCC, SEC. and FTC).

Agencies may go by different names, such as:

  • Board: National Labor Relations Board
  • Commission: Securities Exchange Commission
  • Corporation: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  • Authority: Tennessee Valley Authority

In sum, rules and regulations are the established procedure through which agencies execute laws. For example, the Treasury Department and IRS interpret and enforce internal revenue laws. In some areas of law, such as employee benefits, the IRS shares this authority with other agencies. 

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