In an effort to salvage a plan to ease federal control of National and Dulles International airports, Reagan administration officials have agreed to permit Congress to oversee the work of any new airport authority, government sources said yesterday.
The proposal under discussion would create a "superboard," consisting of members of Congress and possibly federal officials, which would have the power to veto actions taken by an airport authority.
"The closest analogy is to D.C. home rule," said an official familiar with the negotiations over efforts to place the two federally owned airports under control of a regional authority. "This way Congress gets to hold on to its airports and the airports get free of the federal budget."
The administration has pressed vigorously for a transfer of the airports, saying that the federal government is unwilling and unable to spend the money -- as much as $700 million, according to the Transportation Department -- required to renovate them. A transfer bill passed the Senate in the spring, but the House has been reluctant to relinquish possession of the airports.
"All I can say is that Rep. Norman Y. Mineta D-Calif. is exploring all sorts of options and I think he is sympathetic to ours," said former Virginia governor A. Linwood Holton. Holton chaired the commission set up by Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole to explore a way to transfer the airports from federal control, and Mineta is chairman of the House aviation subcommittee where the transfer legislation is currently lodged.
"We can certainly live with compromises, and if they want to decorate the bill or put some safeguards in the thing, that's okay," Holton said.
The composition of a congressional "superboard" and what power it would have to direct the actions of the airport authority have not been determined, according to congressional and administration sources.
Neither Transportation Department nor congressional officials would speak on the record yesterday about the plan. Mineta has had negotiations with Dole, sources said, but they have agreed only on the concept of a board, not on the specifics.
At hearings before his aviation subcommittee last month, Mineta introduced a bill that would create a federal corporation to run the airports. Mineta said at the time that he proposed the corporation only after it was clear to him that the idea of a transfer had little support in the House.
Although there is little support there for the Reagan administration plan, there is a growing recognition on Capitol Hill that the federal bureaucracy does not have the money to run National and Dulles, the only two commercial airports owned by the federal government.
There has been a debate in Congress for decades over whether the federal government should transfer the airports, which are run by the Federal Aviation Administration. As long as they remain government facilities they are unable to raise funds by selling revenue bonds, as other U.S. airports do.
Both National and Dulles are now struggling to survive on the operating funds -- $35.9 million between them in 1985 -- that they receive from Congress. National has for years postponed major renovation plans because it has no money, and Dulles -- which last year became the fastest-growing airport in the nation -- has had to delay building a new midfield terminal to accommodate the surge in passengers.