The Defense Department needs greater flexibility in hiring, firing and managing its 700,000 civilian workers, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Tuesday.

Repeating a call for reform he has issued for months, Rumsfeld said 320,000 military personnel are doing jobs which should be done by civilian workers. That's because military members aren't governed by the restrictive rules on federal civil service employees, Rumsfeld said.

"The system for managing the civilian work force clearly is not working well," Rumsfeld said at a forum on the issue sponsored by the Brookings Institution (search) think tank.

Rumsfeld supports provisions in the House version of a defense spending bill designed to give Pentagon managers more control over the civilian work force. He is scheduled to discuss the proposal at a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (search) hearing Wednesday.

Rumsfeld said the changes would help the Pentagon transfer noncombat jobs from the military to civilian workers, make it easier to recruit new employees and give it greater control over pay, promotions and dismissals.

"Department of Defense managers are not free to manage the work force," Rumsfeld said. "We're not able to move one person to another spot without enormous difficulty."

He said 83 percent of the civilians sent to the Persian Gulf region during the Iraq war were contractors, not Defense Department employees, because of the lack of flexibility for civil service workers.

Democrats have said they will fight the proposal, saying the changes would cost employees job protections and were rushed through Congress without giving federal workers the opportunity to comment.

Rumsfeld said the proposed changes would not loosen civil rights, veterans preference or anti-nepotism regulations.

The defense secretary complained that Pentagon officials have had to negotiate with more than 1,300 union locals over two years to gain the right to take a portion of a worker's pay if that worker makes personal purchases on a government credit card. But Rumsfeld said he did not want to eliminate government workers' unions altogether.