‘‘No matter how you slice it, no matter how you dice it, there is nothing you can do without impacting the front-line inspectors,’’ he said.
Vilsack also complained about the structure of the across-the-board cuts.
‘‘The problem with a sequester is that it doesn’t give you any flexibility,’’ he said.
Separately, the Energy Department told Washington Gov. Jay Inslee that the automatic cuts may impede attempts to close the radioactive waste tanks leaking at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, with possible furloughs or layoffs.
The across-the-board cuts would carve $85 billion in spending from the government’s $3.6 trillion budget for this year, concentrating the cuts in the approximately $1 trillion allocated to the day-to-day agency operating budgets set by Congress each year. Those so-called discretionary accounts received big boosts in the first two years of Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled Congress, but have borne the brunt of the cuts approved as Obama and Republicans have grappled over the budget.
Both Democrats and Republicans for months have warned that the cuts are draconian and would slow the growth of the economy, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, for instance, says they would slow the economy by 0.6 percent and cost about 750,000 jobs.
The military already is facing a cut in projected spending of $487 billion over 10 years, reductions established in the budget law that Obama and congressional Republicans embraced in August 2011. The automatic cuts are in addition to those cuts.
The House bill would boost the Pentagon’s operation and maintenance account to $173.4 billion, about $10 billion more than last year’s level but slightly below Obama’s request. Other accounts — personnel, procurement, and research and development — would face cuts to make up the difference.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.