The United States dropped from last year's first-place ranking and is now behind second-place Singapore and the new first-place leader, Canada. The study, "Rhetoric vs. Reality-Closing the Gap," released this week by international business consulting group Accenture, examined 22 countries to determine where governments stand in creating a mature online presence. The study defined maturity in terms of the complexity of transactions that can be executed by a user on a Web site. For instance, merely publishing information online indicates a low level of online maturity. At the other end of the spectrum, fully functional transactions, like the ability to file tax payments through a site, would indicate the highest level of maturity. A team of 100 researchers took 10 days to act like citizens and scour the countries' sites to rate their e-gov efforts. The researchers identified 165 critical government services, from revenue collection to postal services. Among the U.S. government sites studied, postal and administrative services fared the best, with almost 75 percent maturity, while revenue and justice and public safety services finished last. The federal government's poorest overall score was in the area of delivery maturity, defined as "the degree to which governments are using commercial best practices, such as intentions-based design, portals and customer relationship management techniques, online." The U.S. rating was 20 percent, nearly 10 points below the average of the countries studied. The final goal for governments should be to create ubiquitous access to services without regard for national or international jurisdiction, said Stephen J. Rohleder, a managing partner at Accenture. Portals are emerging as a way to increase citizen access to government services, the study found. Rohleder said government leaders should consider how portal technology can fit in an overall e-government mission. Rohleder also noted that few federal employees are willing to be the first to implement e-government initiatives that could raise major security concerns or, at worst, fail entirely. To deal with that fear, agencies need strong executive leadership, he said. All agencies need to adopt a similar direction for their movement into e-government, Rohleder said, while still respecting the need to differentiate among various services. " 'One size fits all' doesn't work," he said.