Monday, March 14, 2011

Congress Has Never Used Shark

Shark is a performance profiling tool that I use heavily at work. In a nutshell: Shark tells you what part of your program takes the most time to run, so that when you spend time making your program faster, you make the parts that matter run faster.

To construct a trivial example, imagine that my recipe program spends 99% of its time drawing beautiful 3-d recipe cards, and 1% of its time drawing the menu bar. If I want it to be faster, I have to make the cards faster, not the menu bar. If I make the cards twice as fast, the program is twice as fast. But...if I make the menu bar twice as fast, you'll never notice, because I've only affected 1% of the total problem.

Put another way: it pays to go after the whale, not the minnows.

Consistently going after whales is what has made X-Plane fast over the years.

So it drives me nuts when Congress goes after minnows.

Here are a few lists of potential spending cuts...we'll see how much of this actually happens. There are even some cuts that save more than $1 billion - that is, cuts that almost matter.
  • $1.1B - Office of Science.
  • $1.7B - GSA Federal Buildings Fund
  • $1.6B - EPA
  • $1.4B - DOE Loan Guarnatee Authority
  • $2B - Job Training Programs
  • $1.3B - Community Health Centers
  • $1B - NIH
  • $1B - High Speed Rail
(And we have some minnows: $6m for the NEA, $6m for the NEH, $7.3m for the Smithsonian, $2.3M for Juvenile Justice...if ever we optimized the menubar.)

But the real problem here is the total failure to 'Shark'. A few big ticket items seem to have strangely escaped the list.
I'm pretty okay with the 'less government' idea...but I'm not okay with the 'less government except for the stuff I like' idea, and either way if you're going cut, make cuts that matter.

(Why is Social Security not on this list? Social Security takes in a lot of payroll tax, and could be made solvent by relatively small changes in benefits, the payroll tax cutoff, and retirement age. Heck, Social Security was doing fine before Wall Street cratered the economy. Compare this to Medicare, which has jumped 13% in cost in two years.)