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The Hokie Guru! Matthew Stephen Worner – GovLoop Member of the Week

The interview below is with Matthew Stephen Worner (GovLoop’s Bureaucrat on Sports, the Hokie Guru). Matthew was one of the inaugural bloggers on GovLoop. My appreciation is great and sincere for Matthew taking the time to do this interview.

Where were you born and raised?

I’m from Mayville, North Dakota, which is about 60 minutes north of Fargo, ND (please no jokes about Fargo, the Movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116282/) And before you ask, I do not talk like I have a Norwegian accent… yah, sure, you betcha.

Where did you go to undergraduate and graduate school? How did you end up in the Washington, DC area? How long have you been living in the area?

I went to undergraduate school at the smallest four-year public college in the United States, Mayville State University (http://www.mayvillestate.edu). For graduate school, I attended Virginia Tech. Specifically, I obtained a Master of Public Administration, form the Center for Public Administration and Policy (http://www.cpap.vt.edu). The graduate degree has prepared me for future analytical and leadership management roles. I am about to complete my 14th year working for the federal government (time files). Six weeks after I graduated from Mayville State University, I moved to Seattle, Washington to work for the United States Department of Education. My job was to perform program reviews of higher education institutions who participate in the student financial aid programs. I lived in Seattle from 1994 to 1996, moved to the DC area in 1996, and have been here ever since. I’ve worked for three agencies, including the United States Department of Education, the United States Department of State, and the United States Department of Homeland Security. I’ve either worked administering the financial aid programs or performed IT security auditing.

Did you always want to work for the federal government? If not, when did you realize you had a call for public service?

Honestly, I never really thought about working for the federal government when I was in undergraduate school. The opportunity to move away to Seattle, WA during the great days of Pearl Jam, Queensryche, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains was something I could not pass up. Imagine a young guy right out of college in Seattle. However, I knew after my first couple of months with the Department of Education that I had a call for public service. You see, many students would not go to college if they did not have access to federal student financial aid. Government isn’t “the be all – end all.” However, I think government has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable citizens (those that do not have a voice). As civil servants, I think we have that responsibility.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for the federal government?

Social Security and Medicare are headed for a fiscal train wreck. David Walker, the Former Comptroller General of the General Accountability Office, has issued numerous reports and testified to Congress on this subject for several years now. If solutions, like an increase in taxes or a decrease in benefits (realize, I’m not taking sides here), are not identified quickly to resolve this issue, this fiscal train wreck could damage our economy much worse than anything that is happening now. And that’s a scary thought.

If you were having lunch with President Obama tomorrow, what would you talk about? What three topics would you cover?

First, President Obama and I are on the same page regarding a national playoff for college football. This would be a nice topic to break the proverbial ice.

Second, President Obama and I both agree that the nation is on track for a fiscal train wreck and that more effective and efficient stewardship of taxpayer dollars is in order. I’d want to get Obama’s ideas and plans for getting our country’s fiscal house in order because we have twin deficits (e.g. budget and trade) for as far as the eye can see.

Third, I’d like to talk about President Obama’s Management Agenda. How does Obama plan to manage the federal government?

What are your goals for the New Year and how do you intend to accomplish them?

This year, I want to start laying the groundwork for a documentary based on my final master’s paper, which was a research design on differential pricing used for undergraduate textbooks sold in English-speaking countries. The paper also included a feasibility study on United States department of Education recommendations that institutions can take to help their students save money on textbooks. As part of the documentary, I would like to interview students, parents, teachers, administrators, bookstore managers, publishers, and the associated interest group for each of these groups. I’ve identified a film-maker who will be willing to help. I think, if I play my cards right, I might be able to obtain financing for the project from Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban funded the great documentary, No End in Sight (http://www.noendinsightmovie.com/), which might be the best movie I’ve seen in the last five years.

Do you like traveling? If so, what countries or cities have you visited?

I love to travel. I’ve been to 45 countries. Here’s a sample of my traveling: For work, I’ve been to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Khartoum (right before the Iraq War… they were one of the few countries with diplomatic relations with Iraq at the time… they protested at the embassy one day and we had to leave), Hamilton, Bermuda, Seoul, South Korea, Ulannbaatar, Mongolia Lisbon, Portual The Hague (During the 50th anniversary of D-Day) and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Prague, Czech Republic, France (Paris, Strasbourg, Marseille, Lyon, the United States Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the United States Mission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), Beirut (when the former prime minister was killed), Damascus, Syria (When the UN Security council resolution was issued demanding Syrian troop withdrawal from Beirut)… there was a time there when I thought I was seeing an Arab people power movement similar to the what happened in the late 80’s in Eastern Europe when communism fell… while, on a parallel basis, the Beirut country residents were telling Syria to leave because they wanted to rule without their interference… so it was great to see that because I felt like I was seeing history… My last trip was to Baghdad… And I went out with a bang to Baghdad. And I’ve been to every state in the United States (and most of the larger metro areas)… one place I have not been… Las Vegas… can you believe it? I need to go to Vegas… immediately.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?

Tokyo, Japan, Seoul, South Korea, or Singapore, Singapore. Ask Govloop why I’d like to live in any of those places.

How is GovLoop giving you value?

Give the founder, GovLoop, credit where credit is due. GovLoop is a one-stop-shop for policy discussions, events, groups to connect with, networking, etc. It is a great site.

Do you follow any blogs? Have a top three?

I absolutely follow blogs and I think everyone does now. Blogs, in many cases, are beating the traditional media to many stories now. The traditional media is an outdated form of news. Top Three? Hard question… I like many… below are four that I follow regularly:

• Senate Guru (http://www.senateguru.com) – United States Senate Politics
• Not Larry Sabato (http://notlarrysabato.typepad.com) – Virginia Politics
• VT Hokie Fans (http://www.vthokiefans.com) – Hokie Football
• Tech Hoops (http://www.techhoops.com) – Hokie Basketball

Do you like to Twitter?

I’m addicted to Twitter and I’m darn good at Tweeting all over the place (thank heavens they block it out of my agency), thank you. It’s an awesome place for me to pontificate my thoughts about “what I’m doing now”. Whether it’s sports, my thoughts on the important race for Governor of Virginia, or other topics, I have a lot of fun Tweeting it up in a humorous way on Twitter.

Now, to the Hokies: a.) What do the Hokies mean to you? b.) Will the win against #1 Wake Forest propel the Virginia Tech Hokies Men’s Basketball Team to the big dance (e.g. the Men’s NCAA Division I Basketball tournament)? c.) Hokies football – Will it be this year or wait ’till next year?

a.) I’m a Hokie because I’ve been a Hokie since 1971. My uncle and aunt closed on their house on March 31, 1971, when my uncle took a job in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Division at Virginia Tech (he retired 6 years ago as the chair of that same department). I’ve been to football games in Blacksburg, VA since 1975 (I’ve been attending games for 33 years). I remember the days when Virginia Tech was terrible at football and would lose to teams like, oh, William and Mary. I, of course, remember the good days in 1990 when Michael Vick was at Virginia Tech, when we were in the national championship game. I’m a Hokie because I’ve graduated from Virginia Tech. I’m a Hokie because this is my first year as a season ticket holder in football and men’s basketball. Hokies are people that stand up for each other through thick and thin; I like to think I’m that type of person.

b.) I hope that win against Wake Forest will propel us to greater things, but sometimes a letdown happens. The truly great teams, like Duke or North Carolina, continue to win and Virginia Tech needs to find a way to do that… we need a 10-6 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference and we need a win vs. Duke or North Carolina… I am 95% confident (yep, that’s plus or minus 5% for you stats gurus) that we make it to the tournament with these results.

c.) Hokies football? Your guess, sigh, is as good as mine. We are ranked anywhere from 5 to 8 in the national polls, but we play better when we are not favorites. The one thing holding us back (Stinespring) is a decent offensive coordinator (Stinespring). We have the best defensive coordinator in the nation in Bud Foster.

What, in your opinion, is the secret of success?

Success means that you are fulfilled by the work you do. If you are not fulfilled by your work, you need to do something else.

I look forward to your posts Hokie Guru, They always give a lift. What lifts you up? (Besides a Hokies win!)

I appreciate that, Mark. I would say visiting my family in Blacksburg, VA, Fargo, ND, and Minneapolis, MN. I’m a Midwesterner at heart and family means everything to me (and leaving the Washington, DC heat in behind in the summer).

Thank you again Matthew. There he is folks, Matthew Stephen Worner, GovLoop’s Bureaucrat on Sports, The Hokie Guru. Inimitable, indomitable and extraordinary.

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Michael O. Johnston

Awesome interview Mark, thank you for taking the time out to interviewing the Hokie Guru (a.k.a Matthew Stephen Worner).

Matthew, it was great getting to know a little bit more about you, and am looking forward to seeing your documentary that you are writing!

Talk to both of you soon,


Adriel Hampton

Thanks, Mark and Matthew. I’m not a big football guy, so now I have a huge new appreciation for the awesomeness of the Hokie Guru. 45 countries! Now that’s what I’m talking.
I also really appreciate the public policy issues you’ve put your heart into. As the first in my family to get a BA, and now going for a Masters as a family man, I know the importance of federal aide firsthand. It has also helped my youngest brother, who will graduate Cal this year. Your textbook program sounds like a showstopper as well.

Matthew Stephen Worner

Thanks Adriel… sad thing is, there as much as 50% difference in the cost in many textbooks sold here in the USA and the UK… sometimes the same book can be 50% cheaper in the UK… and even cheaper in India… and be sold in different formats… paperbook vs. hard cover… I bought an auditing book from India for $50… paperback… for a commuity college course… that same book was $175 here in the United States… Publishers are raking us over the coals… just like the pharaceutical companies.. don’t get me started 🙂 Good discussion for the documentary.

Mark Danielson

Hi Michael, Adriel,

I am thankful for Matthew so thoughtfully sharing his example. For he is an example for us all.

Best regards and thank you for your too kind comments, -MD

Celia Mendive

Wow, you have never been to Las Vegas?? I’ve been there about 8 times….yet if I could trade my travel experiece with yours, I would, in a second. Interesting topic for your documentary. I remember I used to sell my books online, get a little extra money and then buy used books online as well. As a grad assistant, I got 10% off at the bookstore…not much but at least it was something. Anyways, great interview guys!