EVERY AIR TRAVELER seems to have at least one complaint about Washington National or Dulles, but the two nuisances most widely complained about are parking (not enough) and panhandlers (too many). Both happen to be under official U.S. government scrutiny this month. The Office of Mangement and Budget and the Department of Transportation are considering elimination of free VIP parking and cut-rate employee parking at the two airports. And the Senate has adopted a measure requiring new regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration in connection with the solicitors who bother passengers in the two air terminals.
In each instance, the intentions may be good but the approaches miss the mark. Neither the VIP parking nor the panhandling is likely to disappear. But there is one basic step the government should take to help on both fronts. It should improve the pitiful system that currently passes for law enforcement at the two airports.This, more than any tinkering with regulations, would work to curb the most annoying abuses. It means upgrading the FAA police force, which is the worst-paid group in the area.
As for parking, each airport maintains free spaces close to its terminal and reserved for members of Congress, diplomats and Supreme Court justices. Regardless of whether the administration decides to charge rate for its free or cut-rate spaces, the designation of special parking areas for these three categories of motorist is certainly defensible. There is a matter of diplomatic reciprocity (similar arrangements around the world); and members of Congress should be able to travel to and from the capital as efficiently as possible. With tight policing and perhaps a special pass system to eliminate parking by former congressmen, their ex-spouses and/or middle-aged children, abuses would probably be minimal.
The measure to control the conduct of solicitors was sponsored by Sen. Robert B. Morgan (D-N.C.), who said earlier this year that he had been "harassed and insulted" by panhandlers at National. But the FAA which already is trying to draft some regulations, properly points out that constitutional rights of free speech as well as various court opinions must be considered. Here, as in parking, the best control is a strong police presence.
But a check of the FAA police shows that there are only 125 authorized positions-GS-4 and GS-5-for the two airorts. That spells turnover: Last year 33 officers left the force and 22 replacements were found. As of Friday, there were 13 vacanies. So if members of Congree ss want to improve traffic, parking and other airports conditions for themselves as well as others they should appropriate the relatively small amounts of money needed to increase and improve the FAA police force