Sanatana Goswami cast a forlorn eye around the vast spaces of Washington National Airport's north terminal, looking for someone to beg money from.
"Sure, the new regulations have hurt us. They've limited the number of people we can hit up on. I'd say they've cut back our contributions by 40 percent," he said.
Goswami, 25, who has worked the airport for more than a year raising money for the International Society of Krichna Consciousness, was complaining about controversial new Federal Aviation Administration regulations that for the first time sharply restrict the number of people who can beg money from passengers. The regulations, which went into effect last Sunday, also strictly limit the areas solicitors can work in.
"Before the regulations went into effect we could work the hallways, move into the waiting area, hit up on people sitting in chairs. Now we have to stay right in this small area" in front of the entrance, said Goswami, who said his "nonspiritual" name is Stephen Voith. He declined to state how much money he recieved from passengers.
The tough new FAA regulations were formulated last spring as a response to increasing citizen complaints of harassment from people wanting funds or seeking to give information to passengers at National and Dulles International airports, officials said. Both airports are owned by the federal government.
"It is not our intention to exclude anyone from the airport," said FAA attorney Edward S. Faggen. "We just wanted to establish some control on behalf of the public over the solicitors."
Under the regulations no more than eight persons may beg for funds each day.
Previously as many as two dozen solicitors roamed the airport, seeking funds, officials said.
The solicitors must now for the first time register with airport authorities to receive a 48-hour permit issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Once they begin soliciting, they may not block staircases, move through hallways, or follow passengers through the terminals.
The regulations are causing their own controversy. They are unconstitutional, said Arthur Spitzer, legal counsel for the Washington area office of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Sooner of later we'll probably end up in court because of them," he added.
The ALCU, the Aviation Consumer Action Project, which is affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, as well as attorneys for the Krichna movement and the Fusion Energy Foundation, another group that solicits money at the airports, are seeking the change the regulations through administrative procedures. If that fails, a lawsuit challenging the regulations on First Admentment (freedom of speech) grounds will be filed, Spitzer said.
An attempt last week by the Fusion Energy group to stop the regulations failed when a federal judge ruled she did not have jurisdiction. That attempt is being appealed, officials said.
"One reason we are concerned is that since these are federal regulations, they might be used as models for regulations at airports elsewhere around the country owned by municipalities or airport authorities," Spitzer added. "If the FAA can permit nearly 8,000 more people each day to use National Airport, surely it can let in a few more solicitors."
Under propsed Faa-guidelines, the number of passengers who use National Airport each year would be increased from a record 15 million last year to 17 million. Currently about 3.5 million people travel through Dulles annually.
Some airports around the country limist solicitors to specified areas and often require them to stay close to card tables along the walls. However, there had never been any attempt at enforcing regulations at the federal government's two Washington-area airports until North Carolina Sen. Robert Morgan (D) said he was "harassed and jeered" two years ago by a group of solicitors."
Morgan complained, and when he found out that the existing regulations were rarely enforced because FAA attorneys felt they were unconstitutional, introduced legislation permitting the new restrictions.
"I think the regulations are a good idea," said Oakridge, Tenn., resident William R. Casto as he moved through National Airport recently. "If you're in a hurry you don't want to walk straight at people to get them to step aside. Sometimes that was the only way the'd move," he added.