Robert D. Atkinson

Robert D. Atkinson
President
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

As founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), recognized as the worlds top think tank for science and technology policy, Robert D. Atkinson leads a prolific team of policy analysts and fellows that is successfully shaping the debate and setting the agenda on a host of critical issues at the intersection of technological innovation and public policy.

He is an internationally recognized scholar and a widely published author whom The New Republic has named one of the “three most important thinkers about innovation,” Washingtonian Magazine has called a “tech titan,” Government Technology Magazine has judged to be one of the 25 top “doers, dreamers and drivers of information technology,” and the Wharton Business School has given the “Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award.”

A sought-after speaker and valued adviser to policymakers around the world, Atkinson’s books include Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Mythology of Small Business (MIT Press, 2018); Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage (Yale, 2012), Supply-Side Follies: Why Conservative Economics Fails, Liberal Economics Falters, and Innovation Economics is the Answer (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), and The Past And Future Of America’s Economy: Long Waves Of Innovation That Power Cycles Of Growth (Edward Elgar, 2005). He also has conducted groundbreaking research projects and authored hundreds of articles and reports on technology and innovation-related topics ranging from tax policy to advanced manufacturing, productivity, and global competitiveness. He has testified before the United States Congress more than 30 times.

President Clinton appointed Atkinson to the Commission on Workers, Communities, and Economic Change in the New Economy; the Bush administration appointed him chair of the congressionally created National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission; the Obama administration appointed him to the National Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy Advisory Board; and the Trump administration appointed him to the G7 Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence. Atkinson serves on the UK government’s Place Advisory Group to advise the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation on how policy can drive innovation in more regions. He is a founding member of the Polaris Council, a body of cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary science and technology policy experts who advise the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team on emergent and emerging issues facing the Congress and the nation. He also has served as co-chair of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s China-U.S. Innovation Policy Experts Group; as a member of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and on the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information.

Atkinson is a member of the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age and serves on the boards or advisory councils of the Internet Education Foundation, the NetChoice Coalition, the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Innovation, and the State Science and Technology Institute. Additionally, Atkinson is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Electronic Government and the Journal of Internet Policy; a member of the Global Innovation Forum Brain Trust; a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; a fellow at the Columbia University Institute of Tele-Information; a fellow of Glocom, a Tokyo-based research institute; and a member of the Polaris Council, an advisory group to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team.

Atkinson was previously vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute, where he directed the Technology & New Economy Project. He wrote numerous research reports on technology and innovation policy, covering issues such as broadband telecommunications, e-commerce, e-government, privacy, copyright, R&D tax policy, offshoring, and innovation economics.

Previously, Atkinson served as the first executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council (RIEPC), a public-private partnership whose members included the state’s governor, legislative leaders, and both corporate and labor leaders. As head of RIEPC, Atkinson was responsible for drafting a comprehensive economic development strategy for the state and working with the legislature and executive branch of government to successfully implement each element of a 10-point action agenda.

Prior to his service in Rhode Island, Atkinson was a project director at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, where, among other projects, he spearheaded The Technological Reshaping of Metropolitan America, a seminal report examining the impact of the information technology revolution on America’s urban areas.

As a respected policy expert and commentator, Atkinson has testified numerous times before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and he appears frequently on news and public affairs programs. Among others, these appearances have included interviews on BBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC Nightly News.

Atkinson holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was awarded the prestigious Joseph E. Pogue Fellowship. He earned his master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Oregon, which named him a distinguished alumnus in 2014.

Recent Publications

July 26, 2021

China leverages antitrust law to achieve industrial policy objectives—including in the tech sectors that are crucial to its rivalry with the United States—but it does so through an insular bureaucracy that is surprisingly fragmented and therefore difficult for outsiders to understand.

July 12, 2021

Facial recognition technology has faced widespread allegations of discrimination in recent years, leading some cities to restrict its use—but exactly how valid are these claims? Rob and Jackie sit down with Daniel Castro to discuss why many of the claims are misleading, and how facial recognition can make public and private services more accessible, efficient, and useful.

July 12, 2021

Few would oppose the president’s stated goals of lowering prices, raising wages, and increasing convenience for Americans. But his executive order is not the way to achieve them.

July 12, 2021

The U.S. economy has been in a productivity depression for more than a decade, suffering from a historically unprecedented slowdown in labor productivity growth.

July 12, 2021

For many progressives, anticorporatism is not just the means for achieving other policy goals, it is the main goal in and of itself: an economy rid of large corporations. If their movement prevails, the result will be slower growth, diminished competitiveness, and less opportunity.

July 6, 2021

When it comes to technology and the economy, the U.S. is grappling with two contradictory goals: competing with China in advanced technology industries and ramping up antitrust enforcement against leading U.S. tech companies.

July 1, 2021

If the U.S. government is going to develop more effective policies to spur competitiveness, growth, and opportunity it will need to support better data collection, particularly on firms, industries, and technologies.

June 28, 2021

Robert D. Atkinson argues that like-minded democracies need to form a ‘NATO for Trade’ in response to China’s propensity to circumvent the spirit (and letter) of the WTO and target democratic countries with trade coercion.

June 28, 2021

Long before Walmart and Amazon, there was A&P—The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company—which started as a mail-order tea business in the Civil War era before displacing Sears, Roebuck &

June 23, 2021

The House legislation does a number of things, including reducing the unfair burdens on USPS to prepay its retirement obligations. But it also has several provisions that address the growing importance of package delivery to the USPS.

June 17, 2021

With the rise of China, the U.S. economic and technology environment has fundamentally and inexorably changed. The most important step Congress and the Biden administration can take to meet the challenge is to create a dedicated national advanced industry and technology agency.

June 17, 2021

Korea needs to embrace all kinds of automation and leave the decisions of whether it is worker-enhancing or worker-replacing up to companies—and the Korean government should expand, not cut tax incentives for investing in automation.

Recent Events and Presentations

June 22, 2021

Rob Atkinson was a guest on "The Creative Life" by ThinkTech Hawaii to discuss promoting policies in innovation economics, and described how to close the divide through creative self-sustaining growth centers.

June 16, 2021

ITIF hosted an in-depth discussion with members of the Biden Administration about the report, implications for policy, and potential next steps.

June 15, 2021

Watch the launch of ITIF's Schumpeter Project on Competition Policy in the Innovation Economy. An expert panel will respond to the presentation of an important new ITIF report outlining a set of guiding principles for “dynamic antitrust.”

June 10, 2021

Watch our overview of this research, including sectoral analysis of five advanced industries: telecommunications equipment, biopharmaceuticals, solar photovoltaics, semiconductors, and high-speed rail. ITIF analysts will discuss how Chinese policies affect global innovation and steps allied nations can take to mitigate the harm.

June 8, 2021

ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion discussing EU-US digital trade relations and what both governments should do to foster closer relations without sacrificing U.S. digital innovation.

May 10, 2021

Rob Atkinson particpated in a an expert Q&A panel on VMT fee transition and implementation hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

April 20, 2021

ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion to explore the economic, health, and social effects that may persist post-COVID.

April 19, 2021

ITIF hosted a robust debate on this question. Professor Michael Klare has written that “Biden’s Tough Stance on China Will Lead to Global Climate Doom.” He argued that cooperation is essential and can be done in parallel without weakening the U.S. negotiating position on other matters. ITIF President Rob Atkinson tackled the opposing position.

April 15, 2021

Rob Atkinson participated in a discussion on the regulation of technology companies as a part of Observer Research Foundation's Raisina 2021.

March 24, 2021

ITIF and the Institute for Policy Integrity hosted a discussion about the report and the path to a road user pricing system.

March 22, 2021

ITIF hosted a panel with a keynote speech by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, followed by an expert discussion with leading defense and technology experts of the health of the current U.S. innovation and production system, including the defense industrial base, and what the new administration and Congress should do to strengthen it.

January 22, 2021

Rob Atkinson appeared on Jordan Schneider’s China Talk podcast to discuss U.S. industrial policy grand strategy in light of China’s rise, what the US can expect from its allies on tech policy, as well as the “power trader” paradigm and how Albert Hirschmann’s analysis of 20th century Kaiser and Nazi trade policy helps explain China today.

Testimonials

Rob Atkinson, “has a unique and enviable capacity to communicate cutting-edge analysis of emerging and effective economic development practices. In that, he made high level concepts very accessible and relevant to those in the front line of growing jobs and the economy. We consider ourselves to be very fortunate you were able to share your voice, vision, wisdom, and experience with our regional leaders.”

- Jim Prosser Executive Director, Centralina Council of Governments 

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson was an excellent addition as an international keynote speaker at the Innovation Day, hosted by the Portuguese Industrial Association (AIP) in Lisbon. Dr. Atkinson’s presentation on lessons from the U.S. innovation system was insightful and engaging. His encouraging perspective on innovation and its potential role in the Portugal context during a moderated discussion was thought provoking for the audience. Dr. Atkinson is an excellent speaker and a pleasure to collaborate with.

- Augusto Medina President, Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovacao S.A. 

Dr. Atkinson’s keynote on “Innovation Waves” was a highlight of our P&G Alumni Innovation Summit. His long view of how innovation shapes business and economic growth provides clear direction on what’s needed to sustain US competitiveness in the decades to come. Rob was able to share a balanced view of what’s working and not working today, outlining a sensible approach for Federal R&D spending and regulatory policy.

- Wayne Fisher President, Rockdale Innovation