e-government (jurgenfr/Shutterstock.com)

When it comes to e-gov, U.S. is now No. 11

The United States moved up a single spot – from 12th to 11th --  in the most recent United Nations E-Government Survey, a measure of how well a country is implementing e-government practices. In 2003, the first year the survey was conducted, the U.S. topped the list.

The survey tracks progress based on its E-Government Development Index that assesses telecommunications infrastructure, human capital and online services delivery and places counties into one of four categories: very high, high, middle and low. The United States scored in the “very high” category overall. Denmark, Australia and the Republic of Korea had the three highest scores.

Some of the main drivers of higher EGDI scores include “progress in online transactional services delivery, trends in open government data and mobile services, and public engagement in the delivery of innovative public services,” according to the report.

This is the UN’s ninth survey, and the second time the U.S. has fallen outside the top 10. Between 2003 and 2014, the U.S. was sitting comfortably near the top of the list -- though, it had already begin to slide to seventh by 2014. The last two surveys -- in 2016 and now in 2018 -- place the U.S. a bit lower on the list. However, the report cautions against reading too much into small shifts in the rank order.

"Dropping a few positions in rankings does not necessarily imply that a country had underperformed in that specific two-year survey period,” the report said. “Nor does higher ranking always mean better or more desirable outcomes, especially if it refers to a country belonging to the same EGDI level.”

The report comes at a time when technology use is growing rapidly around the world, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs United Nations Liu Zhenmin, wrote in the report’s forward.

“We are witnessing the simultaneous proliferation of big data, artificial intelligence, data science, blockchain, robotics and other frontier and fast emerging technologies,” Zhenmin said. “These frontier technologies are building on and amplifying one another, affecting everything from our food systems, water and sanitation, energy, to education, health care and social services.”

New technologies like drones make it possible to deliver services to more remote locations and automation through artificial intelligence can make access to those services more efficient, the report noted.

Governments are increasingly providing information to citizens through the internet for the sake of transparency. Some are assigning digital identities to citizens that allow them to participate in  government programs and access services more easily.

While progress has been made, divides still exist. Even though more people have access to computer technology, the speed and quality of those devices varies greatly. Some still lack basic access to internet, and some “are just not interested,” the report said.

The top two countries in the survey, Denmark and Australia, both had nationwide plans for the digitization of government. Other countries in the top 10 have similar strategies and have made an effort to make more government services available online.

Of the countries in the “very high EGDI” category, 67 percent of them are in Europe. Digital government efforts are improving in African countries, which make up 87 percent of the countries in the “low EGDI” category. The report noted that rich countries tended to score better on the index and that “per capita income of a country, indicating economic capacity, has a strong influence on national e-government development.”

The United States did have the second highest score for “commitment to cybersecurity” behind Singapore. This measure considered plans to protect critical infrastructure and whether cybersecurity protocols undergo audits.

The United States also had the second highest score for online service delivery – tying with Singapore – behind Denmark.

The report used the 2016 election in the United States to highlight the potential misuse of technology in a government setting.

“Recent cases of user-data transfers to and hacks by Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired to provide services during the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States, raised concerns about targeted political messaging on social media to influence voter preferences,” the report said.

While the United States remains outside of the top 10 of EGDI scores, the report still refers to the country as “one of the world leaders in e-government.”

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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