Decentralized Administrative Law in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Document Type



The most up-to-date version of this piece can be found in the Duke Law Scholarship


The article examines administrative law practices at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and is being published as part of an issue of Law & Contemporary Problems on global administrative law. While the OECD is neither a well-known nor well-studied international organization (I worked there from 1990-1992), a number of its activities influence domestic agency action far more than is generally realized. It also provides a wonderful example for the study of global administrative law for the simple reason that it is a hybrid organization. Through its many diverse activities, OECD shares aspects of primarily law-making international bodies such as the EU, primarily standard-setting bodies such as the World Health Organization, and primarily data gathering and research organizations such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no uniform administrative law in the OECD. In managing this constellation of activities, the OECD has chosen largely to decentralize its administrative law down to its subject-specific directorates who develop administrative procedures on an ad hoc basis. Thus in studying administrative law at the OECD, one is effectively studying multiple administrative law systems under one roof.

Because the OECD does not garner much attention from scholars or the public, The article commences with a description of the OECD, out the basics of the organization's origins, operations, and examples of its range of activities. Four case studies then examine the OECD's multiple roles and how these bear on the development of the organization's administrative law. The cases range from traditional treaty-making, to consensus development of standards, to quasi-judicial review of the actions of multinational enterprises. Each of these examples relies on different types of administrative mechanisms to address the core concerns of transparency, responsiveness and accountability. The final section explores whether administrative law safeguards should apply to OECD activities that, while not lawmaking themselves, exert important influence on domestic lawmaking and underscores why the OECD has adopted a decentralized model of administrative law.

Date of Authorship for this Version

September 2005