TO THE PEOPLE at the White House who are trying to figure out how to cut the federal deficit, Rep. Frank Wolf's proposal that Dulles Airport be leased to the state of Virginia may sound like a fine idea. By renting out Dulles for, say, $1 a year, the federal government could save $3 million in 1981. Not much, as the deficit goes, but every little bit counts.
The same mathematics, however, explain why Virginia officials are not falling all over themselves to support Rep. Wolf's proposal. Dulles, as they are fully aware, is one of the federal government's biggest white elephants. Virginia, for obvious reasons, is not anxious to feed and care for it, as the feds have for 18 years, without some indication that it will outgrow its elephanthood some day.
That indication will have to come from Congress, and it will have to be an indication that more than just a transfer of control over Dulles is involved. Dulles is not now and cannot become the busy, thriving airport it was designed to be until Congress and the rest of the federal government face up to the mess they have made. As long as National Airport is regarded as Washington's prime air transportation facility, Dulles will have to struggle even to stay in the race for second place. BWI, which is being promoted shrewdly by the state of Maryland, serves part of the Washington market well -- and all of the baltimore market.
If the reagan administration wants to be bold -- and the signs are that it does -- it will leap over Rep. Wolf's proposal to the logical solution: lease, sell or give both Dulles and National to a Virginia or regional airport authority. The two airports are inextricably linked. Whatever happens at National will determine the fate of Dulles.
It is unlikely that Congress could be persuaded quickly to go along with so radical an idea. its members have all too often demonstrated their deep devotion to National. But they ought to be made to confront constantly the results of their devotion: the sewer of noise known as the Potomac River Valley and the vacant runways and aprons of Dulles Airport.
Until Congress is ready to have both those situations changed, no one is likely to want to lease Dulles -- or even take it as a gift -- unless it is accompanied by a hefty federal subsidy or its land is to be used for something other than an airport.