The United States has continued a troubling trend: According to a widely respected annual index of government responsibility around the word, the nation is seen as the most corrupt it has been since 2012.
Transparency International, which has produced the Corruption Perceptions Index since 1995, released the latest edition Thursday and it paints a bleak picture for the United States. On a scale of 0 to 100, where a lower score equals greater corruption, the United States earned a 67, ranking as the 25th least corrupt nation — right between Bhutan and Chile. Last year, the U.S. ranked 23rd with a score of 69.
The report's authors blamed Donald Trump's White House for the backsliding.
"Attacks by the previous administration on a landmark anti-bribery law, on whistleblowers with evidence of fraud and corruption in the government, on oversight of pandemic relief funding, and on the nation's electoral process were all likely factors impacting assessments of corruption," said Gary Kalman, director of Transparency International's U.S. office. "Add to all that the release of the [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] files documenting failures in the nation's protections against money laundering and it is safe to say it was a difficult and troubling year for anti-corruption advocates."
The United States was among 47 countries to score lower in 2020 than in the previous year. And while Transparency International admits a two-point drop is not significant on its own, the continued downward trend means the U.S. is now on the "countries to watch" list, which includes Honduras, Myanmar, Belarus, Lebanon and Zambia.
Denmark and New Zealand tied for the top score (88) while Canada (77) received the highest marks in the Americas. The United States has never ranked higher than 14, which it achieved in 2000, when the scoring methodology was different.
Transparency International grades 180 countries, not on data about corruption but on experts' and business leaders' perception of corruption.
The coronavirus pandemic is at the root of much of the perceived corruption in 2020.
"As the past tumultuous year has shown, Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis, but a corruption crisis as well, with countless lives lost due to the insidious effects of corruption undermining a fair and equitable global response," the report says.
They identify four steps to fighting corruption and Covid-19: strengthening oversight institutions, defending democracy, ensuring open and transparent contracting, and making more data available to the public.
Transparency International's U.S. office will be following up another report that offers recommendations for boosting the score. The blueprint is designed to work in parallel with HR 1, the catch-all democracy reform package pushed by most all Democrats in Congress but opposed by almost all Republicans.
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