I think you're right in certain aspects on both your points. I may not have been getting hits with my application efforts so far because I wasn't fully aware of the playing rules......I am now though. In fact, it appears I may know the rules better than a lot of the hiring officials do and I plan on using them.
I think your point of going the contractor route first would mainly apply to DOD positions. Most of the other agencies aren't affiliated with any contractor positions, at least not in my career field anyway.
I think your experience with federal employment, according to people I know who are federal employees anyway, is more the exception, not the rule. You're the only person I know of whose had federal employment and didn't like it. Everyone I've talked to said their federal job was almost exactly like the job they did on active duty, without all the BS like having to deploy, having to comply with fitness and weight standards, etc.
Keep in mind, I will only go the route of filing a complaint with the DOL as a last resort. I still have a couple of non-derogatory methods I'm using to get hired.