What Is Discretionary Authority?

Discretionary authority is the ability to exercise powers that may not be expressly granted by law. The implied powers of Congress are an example of discretionary authority. Discretionary authority directly affects the level of government involvement in the daily lives of citizens. An excessive level of involvement is often called “big government.”

Many bureaucratic functions of the United States government are written policies regarding the liberties and limitation of their discretionary authority. Additionally, many organizations may only exercise discretionary authority when certain conditions are met, although they are not required to exercise their power of discretionary authority at any time. Discretionary authority also extends beyond government offices. Discretionary authority can be administered in the private sector usually in association with contractual obligations. The ability of a bank to repossess a car in the event that an owner does not make timely payments is an expression of discretionary authority in the private sector. Ordinarily, a bank has no legal right to take possession of property. If a bank provides a loan, however, and agrees to initially provide the funds for the car that the consumer then must pay back to the bank, then the bank may take ownership of the car if the money is not repaid because the bank still has principal interest in the car.