"Look, this is a huge cut, it's $1 billion," LaHood told NBC's "Meet the Press." "It's $600 million at [the Federal Aviation Administration], which has the largest number of employees at [the Department of Transportation]. It's about shared sacrifice. But this doesn't have to happen ... . If Republicans and Democrats get together this week and take a look at the president's plan, which he put on the table to save $85 billion, this does not have to happen. There is still time to reach a compromise."
LaHood said, his department "will begin to look at every contract at FAA. We will look at our opportunities to do what we have to do to come up with $1 billion and $600 million at FAA. These things will begin to be phased in."
LaHood also said he would have no choice but to cut back on air-traffic staffing in the event the sequestration takes effect.
Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, LaHood discounted the notion there were other areas of the FAA budget that could be cut without impacting air travel.
"The largest number of employees at DOT is at FAA, of which the largest number are FAA controllers," LaHood said. "We are going to try and cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do. But in the end, there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic control."
The sequestration includes mandatory spending cuts and tax hikes that will take effect Friday unless Congress and the Obama administration agree on a budget proposal.
LaHood has warned airlines furloughs would reduce air-traffic control staffing and other FAA services, and would lead to significant slow-downs at major airports.
The warning stirred up speculation the Obama administration was using scare tactics to pressure congressional Republicans. LaHood told CNN, however, there was no way to dodge the requirements of making billions of dollars worth of budget cuts on short notice.
"This sequester is very serious business, and it requires us to make the reductions that we're making," LaHood said. "It requires us, as painful as it is, to furlough the people that we're going to have to furlough. And we're taking it very seriously."