The US scored its lowest mark since 2011 in a global survey measuring government corruption that was released Tuesday.
The report released by Transparency International measured corruption in governments by aggregating data from nearly a dozen data sources that “capture the assessment of experts and business executives on a number of corrupt behaviours in the public sector,” including bribery, nepotism in the civil service, diversion of public funds and use of public office for private gain. The report ranked 180 countries around the world on a scale of zero to 100, with zero being “highly corrupt” and 100 meaning a country is “very clean.”
The report gave the US a score of 71 for 2018 and a global ranking of 22, down from a 75 score and 16th ranking in 2017. The last time the US scored this badly was 2011, when it rated 7.1 out of 10 (at the time, the report used a 10-point scale).
The new ranking places the US directly behind France — which has a score of 72 — and right in front of the United Arab Emirates, which holds a score of 70. Denmark, the country with the lowest measured corruption, scored an 88 and Somalia received the highest ranking with a score of 10.
In a statement, the organization said the US score “comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.”
Speaking generally about the report, Patricia Moreira, the managing director of Transparency International, said “corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.”
She added, “With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe — often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies — we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights.”
Susan Ariel Aaronson, a research professor of international affairs at George Washington University who has expertise in anti-corruption, told CNN she found the report “extremely depressing.”
“Never, ever did I think that the US would disimprove. I thought that we would improve,” Aaronson said, adding that if she were to teach a class on government corruption as she used to, “I’d be teaching an entirely different course.”
Aaronson, who stressed that corruption is difficult to assess because it’s “opaque,” attributed the latest ranking to President Donald Trump, citing former administration officials like Scott Pruitt and Tom Price who left their posts amid ethics scandals.
“I think Trump has done a lot to undermine trust among Americans,” she said.
To combat corruption around the world, the report provided several suggestions for governments, including “(closing) the implementation gap” between anti-corruption legislation and enforcement, strengthening institutions intended to maintain checks and balances on political power, and increasing protections for journalists.