2.13 Discretionary and Rule-Making Authority

3 min readfebruary 7, 2023


Samantha Howey

Riya Patel

Riya Patel

AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

240 resources
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How do these powers work?

Discretionary authority allows the federal bureaucracy to have some level of flexibility in decision-making. For example, when implementing a law, the bureaucracy can choose to prioritize certain aspects of the law over others, or make decisions about how to allocate resources in a way that best achieves the goals of the law.
Rule-making authority, on the other hand, allows the federal bureaucracy to establish regulations that provide more specific guidance on how government programs should operate. These regulations often serve to provide more detail on what is required of individuals and organizations, and how they can be held accountable.In practice, these two powers often work together to help ensure that government programs are implemented effectively and efficiently. For example, the Department of Education might use its discretionary authority to make decisions about how to allocate resources for student financial aid, while using its rule-making authority to establish regulations that specify how aid applications should be processed and how eligibility should be determined.
In short, discretionary and rule-making authority give the federal bureaucracy the power and flexibility to implement government policies in a way that best serves the needs of the American people.

Key Questions

  1. What is discretionary authority and how does it work?
  2. What is rule-making authority and why is it important?
  3. How do discretionary and rule-making authority interact to implement government policies?
  4. What are the benefits and limitations of discretionary authority and rule-making authority?
  5. How do agencies use discretionary authority and rule-making authority to promote fairness, consistency, and accountability in government programs?
  6. How do agencies balance the need for flexibility and specificity in decision-making and action?
  7. How does discretionary authority and rule-making authority affect the relationship between the federal bureaucracy and other stakeholders, such as states, corporations, and individuals?

Key Vocabulary

  • Agency: A government department, division, or organization responsible for implementing specific policies and regulations.
  • Discretionary Authority: The power given to an agency to make decisions about the implementation of existing laws, using its discretion and judgment.
  • Rule-making Authority: The power of an agency to create rules and regulations that govern the behavior of individuals and organizations.
  • Regulations: Specific rules and guidelines established by an agency to govern the behavior of individuals and organizations.
  • Policy: A general principle or guideline that guides decision-making and action.
  • Implementation: The process of putting a policy into practice.
  • Flexibility: The ability to make decisions and take actions in response to changing circumstances and needs.
  • Specificity: The degree to which rules and regulations provide clear and detailed guidance on how programs should operate.
  • Accountability: The obligation of individuals and organizations to be accountable for their actions and to comply with established rules and regulations.

Important bureaucratic agencies to know

  • Department of State: responsible for U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy.
  • Department of the Treasury: responsible for managing the country's financial resources, including revenue collection and economic policy formulation.
  • Department of Defense: responsible for national security and the management of military forces.
  • Department of Justice: responsible for enforcing federal laws and representing the U.S. government in legal matters.
  • Department of Homeland Security: responsible for ensuring the security of the U.S. through counter-terrorism measures, disaster response, and border security.
  • Department of Health and Human Services: responsible for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services.
  • Department of Education: responsible for setting education policy and overseeing federal education programs.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: responsible for protecting the environment and human health by enforcing federal environmental laws and regulations.
  • Department of Agriculture: responsible for developing and executing federal policies related to agriculture, forestry, and food.
  • Department of Commerce: responsible for promoting economic growth and job creation through the support of businesses and international trade.
🎥 Watch: AP GOPO - Breaking Down the Bureaucracy

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