Office of the Federal Register (OFR)

Incorporation by Reference Handbook

Note: Throughout the handbook, we use “we”, “our”, and “us” to refer to the Legal Affairs and Policy Division staff at the Office of the Federal Register (OFR). We use “you” to refer to the Federal agency incorporating material by reference, the agency’s Federal Register liaison officers, and the agency’s regulatory drafters, as determined by context. These, and other, words and terms are defined in the Glossary (Appendix B). We use:

  • “must” to indicate a requirement; 
  • “should” to indicate a strong recommendation;
  • “may” to indicate an option; and
  • "can" to indicate that something is technically possible but you must decide if it is legal, practical, and feasible.



We offer the Incorporation by Reference Handbook for downloading as a single pdf file and as individual chapter and appendix files.  Some of the content is currently available on this site as a series of linked web pages (see below).  We will continue to expand the online content until the full handbook is available  Once all content is available as web pages, this online site may have additional examples that are not included in the pdf files. Currently, however, there are more examples in the pdf files.

We will always have the most-current edition and revision available from this page and we will alert your agency's liaisons whenever we issue a new edition. 

Current Edition: June 2023 (with editorial revisions through August 28, 2023) 

Effective: August 1, 2023  

Introduction to IBR

Incorporation by reference (IBR) allows Federal agencies to comply with the requirement to publish rules in the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) by referring to material already published elsewhere. This makes IBR an efficient way for agencies to maximize their reliance on voluntary consensus standards and minimize their reliance on government-unique publications. When Federal agencies use such material, it saves taxpayer money, encourages efficiency, and promotes economic competition.

When an agency proposes to incorporate material by reference, the agency must balance the following:

  • Its statutory obligations ensuring the material is reasonably available,
  • U.S. copyright law,
  • U.S. international trade obligations, and
  • The agency’s ability to substantively regulate under its own authorizing statutes.

This handbook highlights the issues to consider when thinking about incorporating material by reference into the CFR. The handbook describes the purpose and legal effect of IBR and provides guidance to Federal agencies about:

Where appropriate, we have included examples and templates, so that the procedures will be as clear as possible.

If your agency is considering using IBR in a regulation, your regulation drafters and agency liaisons should contact us as early as possible. Agencies must follow the approval process in order to properly incorporate material by reference into the CFR, and we want to ensure that your document will be reviewed and approved without delay.

  • The factors that agencies should consider when incorporating material by reference into the CFR;
  • The types of material that are eligible for IBR;
  • How an agency can request approval for an IBR;
  • Using the correct IBR language in a rulemaking document; and
  • Removing material incorporated by reference from the CFR.

About this Edition

We added one new requirement in requesting IBR approval - agencies must include information in the request letter detailing what, if any, proposed rule(s) published as part of the rulemaking.  The request letter template in appendix A (available for download) includes the required details.

We reorganized the content of the handbook and simplified the instructions, making it easier to find information. In addition to including the updated content and template from the supplemental Release 1-2022, we added a glossary, more examples, and flow charts to help explain when to request IBR approval, when to include IBR elements in the preamble, and which IBR structure to use.

We continue to require that agencies request IBR approval electronically, using secure file transfer protocol (sftp).  Do NOT send paper. 

The editorial revisions correct typographical errors and a capitalization error in the boilerplate url.

Contact OFR

How to Contact OFR about IBR and …

Get the most-current version of IBR Handbook:

Request ftp account:

OFR-Legal at

Notify OFR of new IBR request:

OFR-Legal at

Ask IBR-related questions: at


Table of Contents


I. Incorporation by Reference (IBR), Generally [download pdf]

A. What Is IBR? 

B. What Is the Legal Effect of IBR?

C. What Is the Purpose of IBR? 

D. How Do I Know if I Must Use IBR? 

E. When Can I Use IBR? 

F. Is There Material I Cannot Use for IBR? 

G. Who Should I Contact When I am Considering IBR? 

II. Legal Authority for IBR and Related Guidance [download pdf]

A. What Is the OFR’s Legal Authority?

B. What Other Statutory Authority Applies Generally?

C. What Federal Policy Applies?

III. IBR Material [download pdf]

A. What Is the Criteria for Approved IBR Material?

B. What Format of IBR Material Do I Send for Approval?

C. What Should My Agency Consider When Deciding to Use a Publication?

D. What Is the “Reasonably Available” Requirement for IBR Material?

E. How Can My Agency Make Incorporated Material Reasonably Available?

F. Can My Agency Incorporate Web-based Material?

G. Can My Agency Incorporate Software Applications or Databases? 

IV. Rulemaking Documents [download pdf]

A. What Must My Document Contain for IBR Approval? 

B. What IBR Language Is Required in My Document? 

C. How Do I Format Regulatory Text that Contains an IBR?

V. Changing or Removing an Incorporated Publication [download pdf]

A. Who Determines Whether to Update Incorporated Publications?

B. What if I Withdraw the Final Rule containing the IBR or the Final Rule Does Not Go into Effect?

C. How Do I Remove IBR Material from the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)?

VI. Requesting IBR Approval [download pdf]

A. When Do I Request Approval for an IBR?

B. How Do I Request Approval? 

VII. IBR Checklist for Final Rules [download pdf]

Appendix A. Templates, Boilerplate Language, and Examples [download pdf]

Appendix B. Glossary of Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Terms in This Handbook [download pdf]