The new Texas Veterans Portal, a website intended to help Texas veterans access information about benefits, education and employment, wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill website launch. State officials said the portal wouldn’t have been possible without interagency cooperation.
Several public agencies and commissions participated in a group called the Veterans Portal Advisory Committee (VPAC). The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) chartered the group, which included the Texas Veterans Commission; Texas Workforce Commission; Texas Veterans Land Board (General Land Office); 2-1-1 Texas (Health and Human Services Commission); TexVet (Texas A&M Health Science Center); Office of the Governor; the Department of Information Resources; staff from Texas state Rep. Chris Turner's and U.S. Rep. John Carter’s offices; and the Texas Army National Guard.
They convened to discuss what would be on the portal and how the information, which is contributed by the advising government agencies, would be included in it.
“The agencies and commissions were able to come together at a table and leave their egos at the door, and work collaboratively to come up with a coalesced solution that appears to provide as a single point of information for all the veterans out there,” said Todd Kimbriel, director of e-government and IT services for the DIR.
Doug Holt, deputy executive director of the DIR, said before the portal launch there had been an existing veterans portal, but it didn’t provide as much content as the improved portal, and that most information for veterans was provided through separate websites.
With a Microsoft SharePoint content management solution, the different agencies on the VPAC can now provide information to the portal.
The DIR, in a public-private partnership with NIC, a Kansas-based e-government firm, launched the portal Nov. 9, which can be accessed through Texas.gov under the Quick Links section. The portal was designed in six weeks by NIC's subsidiary NICUSA, based in Austin, Texas. NIC had previously partnered with the state to revamp Texas.gov, which launched in June.
Some of the features on the Texas Veteran Portal include information on GI Bill benefits, forms for concealed handgun licensing, property tax exemptions and a frequently asked questions section.
Kimbriel said the VPAC was a good solution for helping smaller agencies come together to take advantages of the collective resources on Texas.gov. The committee also offered some of the smaller organizations more exposure on the Internet than they would get otherwise, Kimbriel said, since now Texans only need to go to the one site for a variety of veteran-related information. Also, the approach was cost-effective for the smaller agencies.
Kimbriel said from time to time there was a fair amount of disagreement from the committee, and a fair amount of complexity for satisfying and negotiating their different needs and opinions. Getting true collaboration was not always as straightforward as the DIR would have liked. But agreement came quickly — as evidenced by the fact that the portal was done in only six weeks.