The 36 senators, led by Ohio's Sherrod Brown, above, and New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, said in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that they are concerned that proposed cuts to the DoD civilian workforce would prompt managers to hire contracting firms instead. (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)
Twenty-six Democratic senators are pressing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to cap the number of contract employees it relies on if the Defense Department decides to cap its civilian workforce at 2010 levels.
"We are concerned that while the size of the civilian workforce is proposed to be cut back to FY 2010 levels, no comparable constraints were imposed on workforce hired through contractors," the senators said in an April 25 letter to Panetta.
The senators, led by Ohio's Sherrod Brown and New York's Kirsten Gillibrand, said they are concerned that proposed cuts to the department's civilian workforce would prompt managers to hire contracting firms instead. Federal workers cost less, the senators said.
Specifically, the senators asked the department to:
• Eliminate the arbitrary cap on the civilian workforce or provide a waiver so that managers can use civilian employees if they have weighed the costs and funding is available.
• Review the use of military, civilian and contractor employees across the department to determine the number and type of personnel needed to carry out the department's mission.
• Comply with a 2012 National Defense Authorization Act provision that caps spending on service contracts at fiscal 2010 levels.
• Ensure that agencies use the department's guidance for conducting cost comparisons when making decisions to outsource or keep work in-house.
The senators' letter prompted a response by Professional Services Council President Stan Soloway, who sent an April 30 letter to Brown and Gillibrand to "correct the record."
Overall government spending on services contracts decreased by $20 billion between fiscal 2010 and 2011, "which equates to tens of thousands of private sector jobs losses," Soloway said.
The department's spending on service contracts has dropped almost 10 percent since 2009, Soloway said. The Army reduced it spending on services by 15 percent, and the Navy and Air Force are close to their 2008 levels of spending on services, he said.
Soloway also refuted the senators' claim that federal employees cost less — a point of debate between federal employee unions and industry associations that has been fueled by conflicting research from various groups.
But Soloway agreed with the senators' support for allowing agencies the flexibility to manage their personnel. "In some functional areas, the government has a clear need to enhance its workforce capacity and capabilities," Soloway said. "Likewise, it may well be necessary to increase contractor support for the mission-critical, high-end skills that the government does not compete well for in the broader human capital marketplace. Unfortunately, your letter does not recognize this balance."