1) How does the timing work? Do you decide to ETS and then start looking for a job, or does the government hire far enough out that you can already have a job lined up when you decide to ETS?
2) How geographically limited are the AUSA positions? Are people basically only applying in the district where their base is located, or are they applying all over the place (with the exception of the "competitive" districts)?
3) You mentioned it is often demoralizing in the job search. Can you go into any more details on this?
Appreciate the help.
Timing: It all depends but generally, you are stuck going all in and letting the assignments folks know you intend to separate before it would be realistic to have a Federal job offer in your pocket. This is very variable intensive depending on when your date of separation is and when you are required to notify the assignments directorate of your intent to separate. Another issue is when you would be required to start with your new agency - some might be willing to wait several months for you (the larger the agency, the more likely this is) but if you are interviewing in November 2014 and will not have a DOS until July 2015, most offices are not going to be interested in a vacancy for that long. Sometimes you have security clearance investigations and other things that push out your start date, so it can work for you, but that is case by case. I recommend to all to have saved up as much leave as possible when you go into this process - it is a huge help to have 75 days to work with in terms of terminal leave and where you can start ahead of your date of separation if that is what the agency needs (banking a double paycheck in the process) or having that leave to sell back after your DOS (resulting in a nice check as well).
AUSA: You need to live in the district in which you would work, so most people are applying where they live or would be willing to move. DC is unique in that you have EDVA, DC, and MD all within a very small area. You generally need to demonstrate having ties to the area for the offices to take your seriously - they want someone that will be with them for the long haul.
USAJOBs is not an ideal system - you will not get past the first review by HR if your resume and cover letter do not possess the right keywords, which means a very labor intensive retooling your resume and cover letter for each different job. I applied to over 40 jobs - I cannot even calculate how long I spent working on application related materials. Some agencies are great with updating USAJOBs to let you know where you are in the process - others never bother, so you don't know anything. The agency that ended up hiring me still has not changed my status in USAJOBs to acknowledge my application was received. Other agencies have "referred" me, meaning I should have been called for an interview, but I never heard from them.
It also just can take a while - people in Federal jobs explained it to me but I did not really understand it starting out. It can take 6-10 weeks for your resume to get reviewed and calls for an interview to go out. That is a long time to just be hoping you are doing it right, especially when you have a set date of separation looming. Those first six weeks were rough for me in terms of wondering if I was actually going to be marketable -- then things came together quite quickly around the six week mark and I ended up with maybe half a dozen interview calls in a two week window. It just took that long to move through the system.