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STUDY URGES FURTHER CUTS FOR PENTAGON

President Clinton's budget request for the military's day-to-day operations next year could be cut even more than the House and Senate think it should be, a new congressional report says.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said Tuesday the Pentagon operating budget could be cut by $4.5 billion next year without harming overall military readiness.The report found excesses in broad array of military activities from pilot training to commissaries to the management of spare parts.

The GAO report touched on one of the most sensitive issues in this year's defense debate. As military spending continues to gradually decline, Republicans and moderate Democrats are warning that the nation's readiness to fight is slipping.

More than any other budget item, the Pentagon's "operations and maintenance" budget finances readiness, a broad category that includes the number of hours a tank is driven per year, services provided to the troops and the maintenance of military equipment.

President Clinton requested $82 billion for military operations and maintenance in his fiscal 1995 budget, an increase over this year of $5.3 billion. But the House defense appropriations bill cuts that increase by $1.9 billion, while the Senate comes in $566 million below the administration request. House-Senate negotiators have yet to work out those differences.

The GAO study indicates that both Congress and the Clinton administration are requesting too much.

In a 20-page report, Frank C. Conahan, the GAO's assistant comptroller general, cites an array of military activities that could be cut back with little or no impact on military power in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

More than half the cuts could be achieved by reducing Army operations accounts by $2.4 billion, the GAO said. The Air Force request is too high by $1.16 billion and civilian Defense Department accounts could be cut by $690 million, it said. Navy budget requests are a comparatively small contributor to the problem, accounting for $274 million in excess, it said.

Here are some of the examples cited in the GAO report:

- The Army, Navy and Air Force could cut their requests for spare parts by half a billion dollars by tightening management of their inventories.

- All three services are overestimating the amount they will need to pay their civilian work forces by $564 million.

- The Navy pays labor costs for work performed at its shipyards based on estimated rather than actual costs, resulting in overpayments of $40 million for work done on six ships examined by the GAO. The Navy told the GAO it plans to adjust its labor estimates downward in future years.

- The Pentagon could save $403 million by streamlining commissary operations, including closing 20 facilities that have annual sales of $15 million or less and are within 20 miles of another commissary, and combining operations at 72 other locations.

- The Army is requesting $549 million more for flight and ground vehicle training than it is likely to use next year.

- The Army is also assuming in its budgets that it will receive reimbursements and payments from Germany that are unlikely to come through.

- The Air Force is budgeting to train 500 pilot candidates next year when the number of spaces available to trained pilots is in sharp decline.