* Officials have been citing Syria, Korea
* Request would follow exceptions for airlines
By David Lawder and David Alexander
WASHINGTON, May 1 The Pentagon is preparing to
ask Congress soon for more authority to shift funds to cope with
automatic spending cuts, confronting lawmakers with another
exception to the "sequester" just days after they gave a break
to the flying public and the airline industry.
The request may be sent to the House of Representatives'
Appropriations Committee as early as next week, a House
Republican aide said on Wednesday.
The Pentagon won increased budget flexibility in March, but
officials have told members of Congress they believe it was
insufficient to cover shortfalls in training and operations.
The Defense Department move would follow closely the fix
last week to ease airline flight delays caused by the temporary
furloughs of air-traffic controllers by the Federal Aviation
The cuts, known as "sequestration," were originally hatched
by Washington in 2011 as a way to force the White House and
Congress to find an alternative budget deal rather than have
spending cuts kick in automatically.
But policymakers failed to reach such a deal earlier this
year and the cuts - totaling $109 billion for the current fiscal
year - took effect on March 1.
Defense spending has taken the single biggest hit from the
automatic cuts, with a $46 billion reduction through the Sept.
30 end of the fiscal year.
One House aide said the request would cite a shortfall in
war-fighting because of higher than expected costs of
withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials paved the way for the move in testimony
to congressional committees over the past few weeks in which
they expressed worries about the sequester's impact on military
readiness, particularly with tensions rising in Syria and Korea.
"With the events in the world today, with Korea, Syria,
Iran, the continued fight in Afghanistan ... the discussion on
readiness could not come at a more critical time," General John
Campbell, Army vice chief of staff, told a U.S. Senate panel on
"The reality is that if sequestration continues as it is
... we risk becoming a hollow force," he added.
Members of Congress from states with a heavy military
presence have been urging a shift of funds since the sequester
took effect and might be hard-pressed to vote against it.
An April 18 bipartisan letter from Virginia senators and
representatives urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to move
quickly to prevent furloughs and loss of pay for "thousands of
The Defense Department is preparing the request to shift
funds, said Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon
spokeswoman, but has not "yet specified the timing or the
amount" it wants to transfer, or "reprogram" in budget jargon.
Congress last week approved a similar request from the
Justice Department to shift $313 million within its budget to
avoid furloughing some 60,000 employees.
Robbins said it was not yet clear whether the Pentagon would
submit several different reprogramming requests or one large
omnibus-style request, but the budget shifts would be sought
The Pentagon was one of several government agencies that won
some budget flexibility in a stop-gap government funding measure
passed in late March.
That allowed more than $10 billion that was locked up in
other accounts to be shifted to the Pentagon's operations and
maintenance account, which funds training exercises and military
While that has helped, it did not make up for the deep
budget cuts brought on by the sequester. The Army alone is
facing about a $13 billion shortfall in training, operations and
Afghanistan war costs, Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief
of Staff General Ray Odierno told lawmakers last week.