March 22, 2023
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National Recap: U.S. slips in global anti-corruption rankings

The United States is no longer one of the top 20 countries perceived to have the least corruption, according to a report that was released Jan. 29.

The report, which was released by Transparency International, measured corruption in governments by gathering data from nearly a dozen sources that “capture the assessment of experts and business executives on a number of corrupt behaviors in the public sector.” These behaviors include bribery, nepotism in the civil service, diversion of public funds and use of public office for private gain. The report ranked 180 countries on a scale of 0 to 100, 0 meaning a country is “highly corrupt” and 100 meaning it is “very clean.”

The U.S. received a score of 71, placing it at No. 22 for the top countries with the least corruption. This ranking left it right behind France and just ahead of the United Arab Emirates. Last year, the U.S. placed as the 16th least corrupt country in the world.

Denmark was deemed the least corrupt country with a score of 88, while Somalia was deemed the most with a score of 10.

Zoe Reiter, Transparency International’s acting representative to the U.S., told NPR that the U.S.’s current score is the lowest it has been in the past seven years.

“The U.S. typically performs right toward the end of the top 20,” Reiter said. “We’ve always been outperformed by our partners in the north — Canada and many of the northern European countries. That said, we are seeing this trend toward declining trust, not just by the public but also by experts, in the strength of our democratic institutions.”

In the report, Transparency International stated that the U.S. is a country to “watch and monitor,” due to recent changes in political practices. The report cites President Donald Trump’s administration’s suppression of the media, weakening of checks and balances and increasing conflicts of interest as reasons to worry. The report also added that growing nativism and populism, political polarization and a rise in hate crimes are increasing distrust in the American government.

“The low score comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest level of power,” Transparency International said in a statement.

Transparency International’s report was released shortly after a joint Washington Post and ABC News survey, published Jan. 28, revealed increased uncertainty about Trump. According to the survey results, six in 10 Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance.

Patricia Moreira, Transparency International’s managing editor, spoke generally about the report and told CNN that corruption is part of a cycle that ultimately undermines democracy. She said once corruption undermines the work of democracy, it also undermines the institutions that are capable of stopping corruption.

“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,” Moreira said.

According to Transparency International, the U.S. is not the only country that has seen a downward trend in democracy, but rather it has been a problem across the globe for the past two decades.

The report also provided suggestions for fighting corruption around the world. Some of the proposed actions were closing the implementation gap between anti-corruption legislation and enforcement, strengthening institutions that are supposed to maintain checks and balances on political power and increasing protection for journalists.

Meredith Burke can be reached at or via Twitter: @meredithsburke