Dale M. Posthumus
I sometimes wonder if this issue isn't something like, every one hates Congress but we all love our own representative. Perhaps the college students who want to work in Govt see the area of their interest as better than the rest of Govt. I sure did. Still do. I work a lot with NOAA and I see how these folks believe in what they do and what their agencies do, even with the frsutrations.
I don't know that much has really changed since I was a grad student. I had an interest in international trade and development. That narrowed my search to a few agencies. I found job opportunities that fit my interest only in some of those agencies. I felt the agencies I was applying to were better than other agencies.
BTW, I also did not apply through the HR system for some advertised job. I wrote letters (yea, that long ago!) to everybody from the Secretary down to the head of agencies where I wanted to work. This in a day where you had to go to the library (usually more than one) to find out who was whom in Govt. When I interviewed for the job I eventually landed, my future boss told me he had five of my letters on his desk, handed down all the way from the Secretary. I do not know if this approach would work today.