Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Scott Olson/AP

Lawmakers urge Panetta to lift civilian workforce cap

131 House members sign letter in support of Defense employees.

Many members of Congress have raced to defend civilian Defense Department employees from spending cuts.

In a letter sent Monday, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., urged Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to eliminate his department’s cap on civilian employees. The letter was co-signed by 130 House members.

“It makes no sense to prevent DoD managers from using civilian employees simply because they are civilian employees,” Hinchey wrote. “If there is work to be done and funding to pay for that work, managers should not be arbitrarily prevented from using civilian employees.”

Current cost-saving initiatives within Defense call for the civilian workforce to be cut back to fiscal 2010 levels, a size-reduction effort that initially was spearheaded by Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates. In July 2011, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and four other Senate Democrats co-signed a letter similar to Hinchey’s, also urging Panetta to reconsider the civilian employee cap.

In addition Hinchey requested other changes to the department, including a spending cap on service contracts, cost comparisons for all contract outsourcing decisions and a prohibition on outsourcing of “inherently governmental work.”

The American Federation of Government Employees came out Tuesday in support of the letter.

“This ill-conceived cap has forced managers to cut tens of thousands of federal jobs while the much larger and more expensive contractor workforce continues to grow unchecked,” AFGE National President John Gage said in a statement. “I hope Secretary Panetta takes immediate action to comply with these recommendations.”

A Defense spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.