The move came after President Obama proposed a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal employees.
"As our nation continues to recover from these challenging economic times, households and small businesses across the country are making sacrifices," said Chu. "In this spirit, we are asking our contractor employees, who are doing important research, operations and environmental cleanup work, to join the federal workforce in playing a part."
Energy's freeze would affect people who manage day-to-day operations at 28 sites and facilities, including the department's famed national laboratories.
The freeze would affect about 75,000 contract workers. Energy is one of government's largest employers of contractors, with an outsourced workforce much bigger than its own staff.
The freeze takes effect Jan. 1, 2011. For sites that already have approved contractor salary increases for next year, it would take effect at the beginning of the next pay increase cycle and last for the following two years.
Katherine McIntire Peters reported in the December issue of Government Executive that Energy's management of its contracts has been on the Government Accountability Office's list of high-risk federal programs since the list was created in 1990. Cleanup of nuclear weapons sites, which comprises much of the department's work, is a highly technical process requiring a skilled workforce on both the government and contractor side.