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), 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 was asked to serve 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 of the UK. He is a founding member of the 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 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

September 21, 2020

One of the few godsends in this pandemic has been the fact that we can take care of a lot of our personal business online—from ordering food to meeting with health-care providers. But if the eye-doctor lobby gets its way in Congress, many Americans will be forced to make otherwise unnecessary trips to an optometrist’s office whenever they need to refill their contact lens prescriptions. This is just the latest skirmish in a decades-long rearguard action that optometrists have been fighting to protect their lucrative industry from disruption. Lawmakers should see through the effort and side with consumers.

September 17, 2020

Reducing unemployment and getting the COVID-impacted economy back to some semblance of normality is clearly the top economic task.

September 14, 2020

For too long, economic policy in the U.S. and Commonwealth nations has been guided by the “market efficiency” school.

September 8, 2020

China is striving to become the global leader in biopharmaceuticals, but many of its policy steps are “innovation mercantilist” in nature. This not only is expected to threaten U.S. leadership, but also slow global life sciences innovation, with negative consequences for cures and treatments.

September 2, 2020

Writing in American Compass, Rob Atkinson argues that the United States can no longer afford the luxury of having an antitrust policy that is divorced from industrial policy.

August 31, 2020

China will likely be the biggest business disruptor of the 2020s, but the discussion about how to respond has yet to take shape. A strategic framework should rebalance the global supply chains, bolster competitiveness, adjust to China’s market size, and solidify the West’s appeal.

August 31, 2020

Innovation is central to addressing global climate change while increasing economic growth, boosting international competitiveness, and strengthening energy security. Yet out of a $4 trillion budget, the United States only invest about $8 billion a year—or 0.04 percent of GDP—on clean energy research and development.

August 25, 2020

The scholarly evidence finds that public R&D “crowds in” private R&D—with increases in public R&D on average leading to greater, not less, business R&D.

August 24, 2020

A vocal group of alarmists worry that the pace of automation will soon displace human labor to such an extent that many workers will be left with nothing to do. Never mind that generation after generation of technological innovations in industries ranging from textiles to steel to banking have always produced the opposite result: expanding the labor force, not wiping it out.

August 20, 2020

What happened? How did America go from the world’s leader to not even an also-ran in the span of just two decades? Equally troubling, why did no one sound the alarm bell when there was still time for action?

August 17, 2020

The U.S. Labor Department’s jobs report in February 2020 showed the country’s lowest rate of unemployment in 60 years. Two months later, it showed the highest rate of unemployment in 80 years.

August 10, 2020

Few policymakers and even fewer pundits or economic analysts understand U.S. competitiveness problems in a way that would lead them to the logical conclusion that a national innovation and competitiveness strategy would count as a viable solution.

Recent Events and Presentations

October 7, 2020

China will likely be the biggest business disruptor of the 2020s because of its unique position as the world’s largest market for many products, the leading supplier of many more, the toughest comp

July 9, 2020

ITIF hosted a discussion with industry leaders on the role of digitalization in driving energy efficiency gains across the economy, and the release of a new ITIF report assessing the concerns—some legitimate and most not—regarding the energy and environmental impacts of the tech sector.

April 9, 2020

ITIF hosted a video webinar to discuss the implications of the pandemic on society, industry, and individuals and what organizations and governments need to do to cope.

March 26, 2020

ITIF held a webinar on March 26 exploring how competition authorities can better consider the productivity and competitiveness implications of antitrust policy, including in merger reviews.

February 18, 2020

ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion on the risks of expanding export controls on U.S. technologies too far, and the strategic considerations involved in getting the balance right.

February 6, 2020

ITIF’s Center for Data Innovation hosted a discussion exploring the future of AI-enabled manufacturing, and what European policymakers should do to help Europe thrive.

January 1, 2020

Please join ITIF for a discussion of these issues with leading computer science education experts.

December 11, 2019

ITIF and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program presented a proposal for a national competition to select metropolitan areas to receive a decade-long range of robust policy supports, enabling their transition into self-sustaining, globally competitive innovation hubs.

September 12, 2019

ITIF released a new report laying out a productivity-focused agenda for federal science and engineering research, and a panel explored how increasing government spending on R&D can help advance technology, boost productivity, and improve living standards.

July 16, 2019

ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion on the current state and future potential of robotics across all sectors of the U.S. economy.

July 11, 2019

ITIF hosted an expert panel to discuss growing calls to either break up big tech companies or subject them to more careful scrutiny out of concern they may be violating competition laws. The panel examined these issues and explored what, if anything, should be done to change the current antitrust regime.

July 10, 2019

ITIF hosted a spirited debate about the fraught economic political realities of the U.S.-China trading relationship and the best-available options for policymakers.

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