A great many things the government does follow a similar over-promising, under-delivering pattern. The notion that perception is reality and a loss of confidence is the worst thing that can ever happen conspire to stifle public questioning.
We see it with Afghanistan, stimulus spending, TARP. As justifications don't pan out, something else is used to justify things.
Of course, the real root cause is that those paying for things are far removed from the decision making process. If voters individually decided whether they were going to be taxed $500 a year for continuing the shuttle or $100 a year for returning to disposable rockets, this program would have been killed long ago.
But everything is put in one big pot and dollars borrowed to conceal the actual ultimate pain. There are so many deceptive aspects to how this operates, its difficult to describe or even grasp.
If that is correct, how were SpaceX and Scaled Composites able to do so much with such limited resources?
NASA could definitely be run better but let's compare apples to apples. I'm sure any given engineer at SpaceX has a computer on his desk superior to the entire world's computational capacity at the time the shuttle was designed.
People are not comparing SpaceX of today to NASA of 30 years ago.
They're comparing contemporary NASA to contemporary SpaceX and finding NASA is lacking.
They didn't have to include secret USAF, CIA, AAA etc requirements in the design.
They had a simple goal - get payload to LEO cheaply - not a nebulous goal of 'make America look good in space'
They did have to build components. Want to know why the shuttle (actually all space missions) took off in florida, were controlled in Alabama, and landed in California. Senators from Alabama, California, and Florida wrote their tender that way.
There is secret then there is ITAR. A lot of astromechanics, guidance and tracking is still under the control of the DOD. They'd have a hard time not going through them.
Goals, just like the, now, International Space Station have a ways of changing. The US thought they could build a permanently manned space station by themselves and even that proved too much.
Besides, you are incorrect: Atlantis just landed back in Florida, as did most of the shuttles. CA was just the backup landing site, and they often waited a day for weather in Florida to be good rather than land in CA to avoid the hassle of transporting the shuttle cross-country.
According to wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuttle_Landing_Facility, the runway was too good at its job and ended up breaking landing gear. So they spent 6 years sanding it down. But when I was a kid and asked why they landed all the way over there, someone at NASA told me it was the unpredictable Florida weather.
Its obvious that even software development is bloated beyond belief with no pressure to actually be responsible with the people's money.
From what I can observe, there are plenty of people that believe what politicians say. And that's a far more dangerous thing than listening to all the conflicting superficial voices of the media. There are just as many voices in the media that claim more government is the answer to every problem as say more government is bad.
Government is perfectly efficient at spending money on its pet projects and pet people. 100% of the money go to them.
But what the people who pay for this massive mess care about is what matters.
Of course there are portions of government programs that aren't working right. Like all things. I know mostly the healthcare world, so I'll draw an example from there:
Medicare uses about 3-5% of its money on overhead. Private insurers use between 15-30%. The insurance company has really well designed brochures, snappy sales pitches, and coverage that varies in quality so broadly that it is unbelievable. On the whole medicare is far more responsible with the money it receives, and provides significantly more efficient service.
How does this jibe with the world view you are presenting?