Perspective comes from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs' E-Government Survey 2010. It hasn't gotten a lot of publicity, perhaps because it is something of a somewhat stultifying document that requires fortitude to dig out the nuggets. But it shows that things in the U.S. aren't so bad. In fact, they're pretty good.
The survey itself, the latest in a series of five, has much for its readers to be skeptical about; this is a U.N. effort, after all. For better or worse, references to openness, transparency, e-government, and competence are applied as much to countries, like our own, that are serious about trying to achieve these qualities as they are to U.N. member states Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and North Korea. To its credit, the U.N. committee putting together the survey was guided by e-government experts from the U.S., U.K, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, India and Canada.
The report takes as its theme the relationship between e-government and economic development during the financial crisis from which countries seem to be emerging. It notes that the major economic powers as a group committed $2.6 trillion to economic stimulus, including the stimulus bill passed during the early months of the Obama administration. Transparency in how that money was used is something other countries joined the U.S. in trying to achieve, the report points out. For example, Australia also has a web site for citizens to track its economic stimulus spending, complete with interactive maps just like recovery.gov. (Note that the U.N. cites recovery.gov as evidence that "most geographic information systems applied by state and local governments are not the same, frequently incompatible and based on proprietary standards.") Of the 30 crisis response web sites set up throughout the world, recovery.gov gets the most checkmarks for the objectives it is trying to reach and the tools it employs.
The U.N. has also created indices for the degree of e-ness of governments around the world, with 1.0 being theoretically perfect. The U.S. and Canada are pretty close, with about a 0.85 index, versus a world average of 0.44.
The indices of general readiness for e-government, show that places like and including the United States have a rich infrastructure -- in our case largely privately financed. Even during a recessionary year, for example, the broadband providers in the U.S. spent more than $30 billion in capital investment.
Here are some of the stats:
E-government development index, the U.S. ranks second with that 0.85 score, second to the Republic of Korea with 0.875. Niger is the lowest, 0.11.
Online service index, again U.S. with 0.94 is a shade below Korea, which got a perfect 1.0. Dozens of countries have virtually no online service.
For telecommunications infrastructure, the U.S. ranks 11th with an index of 0.64, based on 74 internet users per 100 people, 51 telephone land lines, 86 mobile subscribers, 78 PCs, but only 25 fixed broadband connections per 100 people. Switzerland rates the highest telecom index, 0.77. Myanmar is lowest -- almost no one has a phone of any sort there.
The human capital index, derived from the adult literacy rate and combined enrollment in school K-12, puts the U.S. in 20th place, with an index of 0.97 (a 99 percent adult literacy rate and 92 percent school enrollment.) Oddly, Cuba's index of 0.99 comes from 99.8 percent adult literacy rate and 100 school enrollment, if you believe what Cuba reports.
There's much more in the report, such as the insight that mobile devices, much more than conventional computers, are shaping up to be the way that the digital divide among citizens is bridged. Indeed, several federal agencies are launching mobile applications (see related story).
I recommend reading this U.S. report. Bring a little skepticism, but be prepared to find some good ideas from around the world and a load of comparative data.