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; and the Obama administration appointed him to the National Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy Advisory Board. 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; and a fellow of Glocom, a Tokyo-based research institute.

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

June 29, 2020

COVID-19 has forced governments at all levels to implement changes in their operating structures that probably should have happened a decade ago.

June 22, 2020

China engages in egregious “innovation mercantilism,” including massive tech subsidies and forced tech transfer, all designed to have China replace America as the global tech leader. It’s time for America to rise to the challenge by developing its own plan to maintain competitive advantage in advanced and emerging technology industries that are critical to U.S. economic and national security.

June 22, 2020

China’s state-backing of Huawei and ZTE allowed these companies to seize global market share from more innovative international competitors, reducing their growth in sales and investments in R&D. This, in turn, hurt global innovation in the industry.

June 18, 2020

If there are cases of companies abusing the L-1 process, such as using it instead of the H1B visa (for which there are caps) then Immigration and Customs Enforcement should penalize the guilty companies, although these cases appear to be quite limited. But cutting off the program entirely will only hurt the U.S. economy.

June 12, 2020

COVID-19 has imposed terrible health and economic costs on the world. But if governments invest wisely in technology and innovation in response, they can help move their economies and societies forward.

June 9, 2020

As Congress considers a phase 4 stimulus package, it would be a mistake to focus only on short-term recovery measures, as important as they are.

June 8, 2020

The advocacy group’s annual report on Internet and digital media freedom is more polemic than dispassionate analysis. The State Department should stop funding it unless it focuses on true violations of Internet freedom, such as political persecution.

June 8, 2020

What many don’t realize is how important federal investments were in kick-starting the growth of Silicon Valley and other tech hubs in the past.

June 4, 2020

Big Internet, like other advanced industries like Big Auto, Big Aerospace, and Big Pharma, plays a key role in driving U.S. competitiveness, innovation, job creation, and economic growth. As such, policymakers should be careful to not cripple this engine of U.S. prosperity.

June 1, 2020

The COVID-induced isolation economy has demonstrated just how important broadband networks are for work, learning, and entertainment. But it has also highlighted important gaps, such as the rural divide and the “homework divide,” that government policy can play a role in filling.

May 27, 2020

As long as the Wall Street triumphalists’ unreflected “why worry?” thinking remains the norm, the urgently needed pursuit of a U.S. economic reform agenda will go nowhere.

May 26, 2020

German philosopher Hegel postulated that history progresses through thesis, antithesis and then synthesis. Today we are seeing the first two dynamics with trade policy and attitudes towards globalization; we desperately need the third.

Recent Events and Presentations

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.

June 20, 2019

ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion on impact drug-price controls have and what effect, if any, mandated drug-price reductions would have on biopharmaceutical innovation and U.S. industry competitiveness.

June 11, 2019

On June 11, 2019, ITIF President Robert Atkinson partnered with David Plouffe, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama in the C.D.

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