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Tax Office Free and Open Source Software Policy v1.8


IT Policy 11 - Freeware, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) policy v1.8.


The Tax Office is obliged to comply Commonwealth Government policies and guidelines as they relate to the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The Federal Government’s position of informed neutrality towards proprietary freeware and FOSS is consistent with the principle of 'value for money and fit for purpose'. This means considering commercial products as well as products developed using alternative business models. More specifically, it allows products to be assessed to find the one that best supports the organisation’s business and integrates best into its technical environment.

The policy reaffirms that the Tax Office will procure and use whatever suitable software is available, provided it meets the agency's needs and is cost effective as a business solution. The Tax Office will ensure that all parties engaged in software procurement are aware that the agency endorses the use of FOSS and that all ICT tender exercises give fair and reasonable consideration to FOSS-based ICT solutions. Before FOSS or proprietary freeware is acquired for use outside a procurement process, steps must first be taken to ensure that there are appropriate support arrangements in place and that the software, regardless of its form, can be adequately managed throughout its lifecycle.


Freeware is software supplied in a precompiled form license free for personal use, and generally, though not always with a licensing fee for commercial use. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is any software supplied or distributed under a license certified by either the Open Source Initiative or the Free Software Foundation.


All staff engaged in the acquisition (including procurement) of any software for use in the Tax Office computing environment should familiarise themselves with the following policy statements and in particular any obligations and expectations that stem from them. The key roles and responsibilities are listed in Attachment A: Roles and Responsibilities.


The Tax Office endorses the use of freeware and FOSS. Staff involved in the selection and acquisition of ICT products and services will consider alternatives alongside commercial and proprietary solutions and assess them on the basis of fitness for purpose, total cost of ownership risk and supportability. (explanation)


A position will be reserved on all ICT-related tender evaluation teams for a nominee appointed by the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Advanced notification will be given and arrangements made to put this into effect. The CTO may decide to withdraw this representative as the evaluation proceeds. (explanation)


Before granting final approval for the procurement of a FOSS-based solution, the relevant Financial Delegate, authorised under the Financial Management Act, will seek timely advice from the Chief Technology Officer and the ATO General Counsel. (explanation)


Unless a FOSS-based ICT solution has specific relevance to Tax Office operations, the Tax Office will engage software support from major suppliers rather than assume the added burden of technical support. (explanation)


It is a minimum requirement that all freeware and FOSS software be assessed for its suitability to operate in the Tax Office’s computing environment. Software will be submitted for evaluation through the ICT’s software acquisition process. (explanation)


The Chief Technology Officer may issue an ICT technical ruling governing the use of a particular piece of freeware or FOSS even if the software acquisition does not involve an industry tender. Staff are bound to comply with this ruling which will specify the conditions of use of the product in the Tax Office’s computing environment. (explanation)


There are no exemptions to this policy.


These explanations provide the rationale for each policy statement. Numbering corresponds to the previous section.

  1. The Australian Government's procurement guidelines allow agencies to use whatever software is available provided it meets the agency’s needs and is cost effective as a business solution. In this context, the use of FOSS is encouraged on a ‘value for money and fit for purpose’ basis. The same principles apply to the use of proprietary software.
  1. The ICT Strategy and Architecture (S&A) Branch works to the CTO’s direction and will anticipate the likelihood that a particular ICT tender process will attract one or more FOSS-based responses. The standing arrangement will ensure that suitably qualified staff are available during the tender process to address any risks associated with the FOSS.
  2. Financial delegates will ensure that the acquisition of any ICT solution based wholly or partially on a FOSS product or component for which they are accountable represents ‘best value for money’ from a technology and legal perspective. They will ensure that due consideration is given to licensing and/or contractual implications of this procurement decision including technical support arrangements.
  3. The CTO is delegated by the Commissioner of Taxation to oversee all technology investment decisions and will intervene in a procurement process if and when a decision is likely to:
    • add unnecessarily to the complexity of the Tax Office’s technical infrastructure
    • increase operating costs and the intended solution does not present better value in the way of superior features, availability, support arrangements etc, and/or
    • require the Tax Office to release source code publicly in order to satisfy particular FOSS licensing obligations.

The Tax Office prefers FOSS solutions that offer support arrangements, in line with its Procurement policy and IT Security policy. FOSS products supported by major vendors have stated acquisition costs and procedures that address all Total Cost of Ownership considerations. This minimises the Tax Office’s exposure to potential cost blow-outs and quality assurance issues associated with directly acquiring unsupported FOSS products. The Tax Office will always seek to limit the diversity of its technical environment in order to minimise overall operating costs and maximise supportability, reliability and ease of integration.

  1. In the case where a freeware or FOSS product is not acquired via tender, the product will need to be evaluated for use in the Tax Office. There are a number of considerations associated with the installation and use of any software onto ATO’s systems including but not limited to sociability, capacity, licensing, security and standardisation. In the case of FOSS particular attention will be paid to the licensing conditions and obligations placed on its use by the licensor.
  2. The appropriate representative of a software product’s business owner will be issued with a ruling stating the purposes and approved uses to which a particular FOSS product can be put and what if any restrictions will apply.



The following measures are intended to maintain awareness about the FOSS policy within the ATO and in the Australian ICT community.

  • An electronic copy of this policy will be published on the ATO Intranet and the Tax Office’s Internet website (
  • An electronic copy of the ‘Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies’ is available on the intranet. The Procurement Planning section recommends that ‘Use of RFTs avoid introducing unintentional barriers that may discourage or inhibit open source vendors and resellers from submitting responses’.

Procurement planning

The following measures are intended to ensure that staff engaged in procurement activities understand and remain committed to the principle of ‘value for money fit for purpose’ as it relates to the use of Open Source Software.

  • Information pack for ICT related solutions. The Standard Operating Environment (1) states that the ‘Tax Office endorses the use of FOSS’ and (2) includes a reference to the policy on
  • Corporate Management Practice Instructions. Procurement Services issues instructions to all tender teams engaged in ICT-related procurements reminding them of their obligations in relation to the FOSS policy.

Further advice

Enquiries about the:

Attachment A: Roles and responsibilities

The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is responsible for developing policies and technology standards to support and maximise the value of technology investments.

The Corporate Procurement Branch within ATO People and Place is responsible for procurement and contracting issues in relation to Commercial Off the Shelf Software, and ICT Intellectual Property.

Legal Services Branch within the Office of the Chief Tax Council is responsible for minimising the legal risks to the Commonwealth through the provision of legal advice in relation to commercial law, including contract and copyright advice.

ICT Strategy and Architecture Branch is responsible for developing and maintaining IT Strategic Policy and ensuring it accords with Federal Government strategy and direction. The Branch is also responsible for maintaining the IT Architecture Principles which guide the evolution of the Tax Office’s ICT.

Endorsement/version control

Current version number



4 August 2008



Colin McLean

Chief Technology Officer


4 August 2008

Last Modified: Tuesday, 5 August 2008


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