ANSI - American National Standards Institute

Incorporation by Reference, Reasonable Availability, and the U.S. Standardization System

What is IBR?

What Is Incorporation by Reference (IBR)?

The government uses voluntary consensus standards in a variety of ways, including to establish internal procedures, aid in developing regulations for public safety and welfare, and improve the efficiency of the procurement process. When adopting a voluntary consensus standard into a regulation, federal agencies are permitted to incorporate the standard by reference – that is, without publication of the standard itself – in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). 

For a standard to be incorporated by reference or “IBR-ed,” the agency must determine that the standard is “reasonably available” to the class of persons affected by the anticipated regulation.

What Does Reasonably Available Mean?

“Reasonably available” simply means that the standard is accessible to any potential user. It does not require that the standard be available without a fee.

Standards do not lose their copyright protection just by being referenced, and they can be made reasonably available in a number of different ways. For example, some standards developing organizations (SDOs) make certain IBR-ed standards available on an online, read-only site – like the ANSI IBR Portal. And many other SDOs make standards available at reasonable prices, at discounts, or without charge to consumers, policymakers, and small businesses. There is not one single way to make standards reasonably available.

Quick Links

OMB Circular A-119 Revision


Office of the Federal Register / National Archives and Records Administration


American Bar Association Resolution on IBR


Copyright White Paper


Other Resources

Why Aren't Standards Free?

In the past few years, concerns have been raised about whether the “reasonably available” requirement should be changed in light of expectations of free online access. All three branches of the government have joined the discussion in one way or another – whether via court cases, Congressional hearings, or recommendations from Executive bodies or agencies.

As coordinator of the U.S. standardization system, ANSI has taken a lead role in informing government and industry about the economics of standards setting, the importance of copyright protection of standards, and how altering this infrastructure would undermine U.S. competitiveness.

ANSI is working hard to broadly disseminate the important facts and potential consequences that must be considered in thinking about IBR and reasonable availability, including the following:

  • Every standard is a work of authorship and, under U.S. and international law, is copyright protected, giving the owner certain rights of control and remuneration that cannot be taken away without just compensation.
  • Although many people working on standards development are volunteers, SDOs incur significant expenses in the coordination of these voluntary efforts. From the time a new project is commenced until the final balloting and adoption of a standard, the drafting process draws heavily on an SDO’s administrative, technical, and support services. Tens of thousands of staff employed by SDOs across the nation provide direct support for the technical development activities of the volunteers.
  • SDOs are – for the most part – non-profit organizations. In order to recoup their costs, some SDOs rely heavily on revenue from copyright-protected sales and licensing of the standards. An SDO’s right to receive these revenues is based primarily in their copyright rights in the standard. Without such copyright protections, many SDOs would not have the financial ability to continue their work.

    Some organizations receive revenue through membership support including membership fees, project fees, registration fees, and other member-generated income. Still others rely on a combination of these and other revenue-generating activities. By funding operations at least in part through sales and licensing of standards, SDOs can minimize barriers to qualified participation and maximize independence from entities seeking to influence the outcome for commercial or political reasons.

    Standards sales also allow non-profit SDOs to recoup basic administrative costs while passing on to implementers all of the benefits of the voluntary and inclusive process of standards development, including openness, balance, opportunities to participate, and protection from undue influence.

    If SDOs cannot charge for standards and codes, this disrupts the standards development ecosystem. The funding has to come from somewhere. Increasing participation fees to offset lost sales revenue would disenfranchise consumers, small businesses, and local governments. Those with the money would have all the influence.

  • Standards must be maintained and the publication kept up to date. This requires ongoing development, revision maintenance, and administrative costs. The government and taxpayers benefit from the current system by not paying for these recurring development and administrative costs.
  • If SDOs cannot afford to stay in business, safety standards would not be updated, with the potential for dangerous consequences. And standards for new technologies would go unwritten, affecting U.S. competitiveness and innovation. The government would have to step up, take over what is now a market-driven system, and somehow find the money, time, and expertise – for every single technology and industry area.
  • Finally, decisions made about our national standardization system and our priorities for action reach far beyond our borders, especially when it comes to the continued success of our products, services, and workforce on the global stage. Any decisions or actions that would fundamentally undermine this system will cause the U.S. to lose this competitive advantage to other countries that would be quick to seize the opportunity. Additionally, significant changes to the system would compromise the role that standards play in protecting health, safety, and the environment.

Ultimately, it’s important to realize that there is not “one solution to the access issue.” Reasonable availability is the best approach, as it allows for the flexibility required by different industries, agencies, and SDOs. The public and private sectors should continue to make standards and codes available on a reasonable basis. For some this may mean providing read-only but free access, and for others it may mean at reasonable prices. 

The standardization community believes that the development of complex, highly specialized, technical standards requires a massive investment of time, labor, expertise, and money. Federal agencies should continue to incorporate privately developed standards, eliminating costs of developing government-unique standards, and benefitting our nation’s global competiveness, public safety, economic strength, and much more.

IBR-Related News and Events

For more information about IBR, the following links provide access to related news and events:

ANSI IBR Portal

ANSI has launched an online IBR Portal for the benefit of the user community, including consumers. The portal provides a voluntary, centralized infrastructure that can help the hundreds of SDOs in the U.S. make their IBR-ed standards available in read-only format, should they wish to participate. The ANSI IBR Portal provides a mechanism for access to standards that have been incorporated by reference in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). These standards incorporated by the U.S. government in rulemakings are offered at no cost in “read only” format and are presented for online reading. Standards available on the ANSI IBR Portal include those developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and other SDOs. In addition to the standards available directly through the portal, several SDOs are offering free access via their own websites.

 Visit the ANSI IBR Portal

Standards Portal