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

January 24, 2020

It makes little sense for the administration to say the phase one deal is going to increase U.S. exports of high-tech goods while simultaneously erecting new barriers to those very same sales.

January 20, 2020

There is now a crisis of regional imbalance at a continental scale that is throwing off disturbing side effects that cry out for response.

January 14, 2020

A careful review of the scholarly literature and industry cases suggests that the effect of Chinese economic growth and trade expansion, fueled by a corrosive set of “innovation mercantilist” policies and practices has been negative for innovation in most developed nations, including North America, Europe and Japan.

January 13, 2020

The United States, the EU, and Japan must band together in stronger trilateral partnership to pressure China into rolling back the mercantilist trade practices it uses to grow advanced, innovation-driven industries.

January 9, 2020

To realize their full potential, small start-up companies must cross the so-called “valley of death”—that precarious stage when their technologies are not yet perfected, investors are still skittish, and customers are scarce. There is a federal program devoted to helping them make this passage: the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

January 6, 2020

An examination of the scholarly literature shows that China’s mercantilist-powered economic rise and trade expansion have slowed the progress of innovation in the global economy—particularly in North America and Europe.

January 2, 2020

As the Trump administration implements the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, the most important thing it should consider is that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) should treat Chinese acquisitions of U.S. companies fundamentally different than acquisitions from our allies.

January 2, 2020

ITIF President Rob Atkinson explained on NPR’s Throughline podcast how today’s skepticism of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, gene modification, and self-driving cars pales in comparison to the 19th century populist revolt against mechanized farming.

December 23, 2019

Brazilian economic growth has been faltering steadily for years, from an average growth rate of 4.5% from 2006 to 2010, to 2.1% from 2011, to just 1.1% in 2017 and 2018. To say that Brazil’s economy needs a short in the arm is an understatement.

December 18, 2019

Rob Atkinson discussed the U.S. approach to innovation with regards to new technologies in this clip on emotionally intelligent robots.

December 9, 2019

The federal government should take aggressive steps to spur the development of more tech hubs in America’s heartland by identifying promising metro areas and helping them transform into self-sustaining innovation centers.

December 2, 2019

The most important policy to boost economic opportunity is one that focuses on shifting the occupational mix toward fewer low-wage jobs and more middle-wage ones.

Recent Events and Presentations

March 26, 2020

There has been increasing pressure in both the United States and the EU for competition authorities to look more askance at big firms, because bigness too often is viewed as inherently anticompetit

February 6, 2020

Artificial intelligence (AI) is forcing virtually all industries to evolve.

December 11, 2019

The U.S. technology sector continues to grow rapidly, driving the nation’s innovation and overall economic growth.

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.

May 7, 2019

Rob Atkinson participated in an expert panel discussion on emerging transportation technologies and the future of freight at the RailxTech conference.

April 25, 2019

ITIF released a report—“A Policymaker’s Guide to Road User Charges”—and an expert panel discussed the myths and realities of having a “road user charge” system (RUC) that uses technology to log the mileage of cars and trucks and charge them accordingly.

April 9, 2019

America’s ability to compete globally in biomedical innovation is being threatened.

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