What Is Bureaucratic Discretion?

Bureaucratic discretion is the ability of bureaucrats to use their own judgment to determine the best ways to implement laws. This term is also known as administrative discretion.

Bureaucrats are charged with implementing laws passed by Congress. They are given guidelines to do so, but in instances when those guidelines are not clear, the bureaucrat may use his discretion. The enforcement of tax law provides an example of bureaucratic discretion. Congress may pass laws on taxes, but it is the IRS and its agents who determine the actual implementation and enforcement of the law. In an audit, an IRS agent determines the legitimacy of a taxpayer's deductions.