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Need for Games is growing

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Mitt Romney, just back from one of the sites of this week's deadly terrorist attacks, gathered Salt Lake Organizing Committee employees today to reassure them that their work is more important than ever.

"We will have an impact on history," Romney told hundreds of workers assembled at the Gallivan Center, just outside the SLOC's downtown offices.

Romney began by leading the group in singing "God Bless America" and in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to flags held aloft by several members of the crowd.

"I'm glad our jobs have meaning," he said. "The Olympic Games are an important symbol . . . that civilization will not come to a stop, will not come to its knees and will not cease being because of terrorists."

The Rev. Sylvia Behrens of the First Unitarian Church led employees in prayer. There was only one question for Romney at the end of the 30-minute program. One worker wanted to know when a giant American flag would be hung from the former American Stores building, 299 S. Main, where SLOC is headquartered.

The message delivered today was similar to what Romney told reporters before leaving the Washington, D.C., area Thursday evening.

"The Olympics is needed in America and the world more now than it was a few days ago," Romney said from Baltimore before he and two other SLOC officials boarded a plane chartered from Salt Lake City.

He said he did not expect Tuesday's assaults on targets in the nation's capital and New York City to affect Utahns' support for the 2002 Winter Games.

"I'm confident that Utahns, when called upon by their nation and the world to host an affirmation of peace, that Utahns will be there with their hands and heads held high. Whenever there are challenges, Utahns are quick to volunteer," he said.

Romney spent his last day in the Washington, D.C., area on the phone with officials from the U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense and Utah Olympic Public Safety Command to discuss boosting security at the 2002 Winter Games.

"We have not made any detailed changes or adjustments to our planning," Romney said. "But even at this stage, it's clear there will be significant enhancements to what is already a very solid public safety plan."

Those enhancements, he said, will be the addition of "certain places and events" to the plan. "I would expect additional personnel, additional equipment and the financial resources necessary to secure those assets," he said.

Romney declined to be more specific about where security would be deployed. He also said no one's thinking about whether that means safety measures will be more visible at the Games.

"Whether it's more visible or less visible is not our concern at this stage. It is, rather, to take a very significant review and make any adjustments or enhancements necessary to fully protect the athletes and spectators," Romney said.

Organizers have said the federal government is already investing some $200 million while state law enforcement agencies are spending $30 million and SLOC is contributing $35 million in manpower and equipment.

Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved a $12.7 million appropriation sought by Olympic organizers to help cover overtime, housing and other expenses for out-of-town law enforcement officers assisting at the Games.

The money was included in the Commerce, State and Justice Appropriations Act, which passed 97-0. It now goes to a conference committee to work out differences in versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate.

The House did not include any of the Olympic security money in its version. Romney and other SLOC officials were in Washington lobbying for the funds when four jetliners were hijacked and used to destroy the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, the only Utah member of Congress on an appropriations committee, said he is confident the funding will be protected — and said more may also be sought now. "This week's horrific attacks in New York and Washington have irrevocably changed the global landscape and only reinforce the need for adequate security at the Olympic Games," Bennett said.

"Not only are the funds in this bill essential, we may find they are not adequate and decide to seek additional funding. Given the atmosphere in the Congress in the shadow of Tuesday's violence, I would anticipate the support of my colleagues to fund our safety needs."

E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com , lee@desnews.com