This post is less of a +/- list than a two perspective glance at some common questions about NASA. However, before we get into anything else, I have a bone to pick with the 14 dead astronauts jab. Don't get me wrong the loss of life is tragic, but we're strapping people to rockets to speed them away from the surface of the Earth at speeds that replicate multiples of Earth's gravity. The space shuttle goes from 0 to 17,000 mph in 8.5 minutes. All of this is towards the end of sending human beings into the single most inhospitable environment known to man. The fact that only 14 brave men and women lost their lives in that pursuit is remarkable and belongs firmly in the 'NASA rocks' column.
That said, let's look at the two other (major) issues:
1.) Government Bureaucracy vs Private Industry-
Clearly one of NASA's biggest problems is the degree to which it's a government agency with all of the accompanying/resulting inefficiencies, mismanagement, and sprawl. Of course, the greatest benefit of NASA being a government agency is that all Americans own a piece of NASA's accomplishments. The moon landings continue to be a source of national pride (as they should be), and I'm not sure to what extent that would be true if they had been accomplished by US Air or IBM.
Privatized space flight and exploration are the way of the future, but I think there's a strong argument for maintaining some kind of government space agency for national security/defense purposes at the very least.
2.)Manned vs Non-manned Space Exploration-
As far as practicality is concerned, this essentially comes down to whether or not think one of the biggest purposes of space exploration is give mankind an option for survival when the sun starts to die or an asteroid the size of Texas looms or whatever gonzo space disaster happens that's beyond our ability to control or fix. If being able to make a home on other worlds sounds important to you, then there's no substitution for manned space exploration when it comes to accumulating data on the effects that environment will have on human anatomy and psychology. It also provides field data on the challenges we'll encounter.
If you think space exploration is essentially about building a better encyclopedia then the costs and risks (in every sense) of manned space exploration are unjustifiable and robots are clearly the superior alternative.
I'd like the human race to have as many options for survival as possible.
In short, I would sell my organs on the black market to pay to be a part of the first human colony on Mars and NASA made us believe it was possible.