WASHINGTON — Strict drug tests and a renewed focus on athletic ethics are needed to keep Olympic competitors from souping up their bodies with banned substances, White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey said Tuesday.

McCaffrey will be in Salt Lake City to convene the White House Task Force on Drugs in Sports for discussions on ways to minimize doping in the 2002 Winter Games on Thursday.

While in Utah, McCaffrey will also meet separately with Mitt Romney, the president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, on Thursday, to discuss the doping issue. He was also to address the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command on Wednesday in Park City.

The task force includes Olympic officials, athletes, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and Brandon Slay, the American wrestler belatedly awarded a gold medal this year after his German opponent failed a drug test.

"What competitors want is an assurance that they don't have to use performance-enhancing drugs," McCaffrey said. "They're not after catching the cheaters. They want to make sure that when they go out to run, to ski, to jump, that it's a level playing field. I think that's what testing can do."

U.S. Olympic officials have turned over drug testing programs to an agency that plans 5,000 drug tests next year — half of them unannounced, out-of-competition screenings.

The federal government also is chipping in $3.3 million for anti-drug efforts in the Salt Lake City Games. McCaffrey, who steps down as White House drug policy chief Jan. 6, said he thinks the drug screening process for the Utah games will be a strong deterrent.

"I think that right now, if you're out there in Ulan Bator or Hawaii or Beijing and you're looking at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, you and your coach and your trainer ought to say, 'We'd better go with our talent, good nutrition and coaching, because we don't want to risk the shame of winning and being exposed,' " McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey has strongly criticized past anti-drug efforts by the International Olympic Committee and other sports groups, saying they were too lax to act as a credible deterrent. Drug testing during year's games in Sydney marked a turning point, however, McCaffrey said.

Dozens of athletes either failed drug tests or avoided the Olympics for fear of testing positive, and several medal winners were disqualified because of drug tests. Rather than sullying the Olympic image, those tests helped give fans confidence that the winners weren't chemically cheating, McCaffrey said.

The drug question also has dogged the U.S. Olympic Committee. Claims that the USOC was lax on drugs intensified when news leaked in Sydney that shot putter C.J. Hunter, husband of Olympic track medalist Marion Jones, failed four drug tests in Europe last summer.

In October, the USOC turned over its anti-drug efforts to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent board headed by 1972 marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter. McCaffrey said he was confident Shorter's organization was independent and qualified enough to perform fair and accurate tests.

The International Olympic Committee also has created a semi-independent World Anti-Doping Agency, which McCaffrey said is a good step but needs more independence to be completely effective. Still, all the trends are in the right direction, McCaffrey said.

"I think we ought to be pretty optimistic," McCaffrey said. "If you feel it's hopeless, you turn off the TV set, walk away from athletic competition and do something else."