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

May 7, 2021

The reality is that most of the labor markets with high levels of employer concentration are rural and small-town areas with few employers overall.

May 6, 2021

Korea’s progress has slowed over the last 15 years and its productivity performance, while still stronger than that of the U.S. and other global leaders, is slower than it was.

May 3, 2021

Norway is pivoting toward renewable energy—including offshore wind and electric vehicle technologies—while broadening and deepening its national innovation ecosystem to encourage new firms in a range of industries to scale up and compete globally.

May 3, 2021

If the United States wants to be globally competitive in automation-related technologies, especially vis-à-vis China, then policies to ensure higher wages for low-skilled workers are key, including expansionary fiscal and monetary policy for full employment, stronger limits on low-skill immigration, and a higher minimum wage.

April 27, 2021

The Biden administration needs to renew America’s role as a power trader, but with a new focus of maintaining its relative lead, economically and technologically, over China. It will require changes in the strategy and organization of U.S. trade policy.

April 26, 2021

Funding for federal laboratories is critical to accomplish key national missions. But policymakers have realized it also drives technology commercialization.

April 23, 2021

Engaging China with climate hat in hand will do nothing to address climate change, and worse, it will reduce the leverage the United States needs to pressure China to dismantle its predatory innovation mercantilist regime, which weakens our economy and national security.

April 23, 2021

Big organizational reforms that move heavy boxes on agency org charts is supposedly the new third rail in Washington politics. Maybe so, but if we want to compete effectively with China, it’s time to step on the third rail.

April 19, 2021

There is a deep disconnect between the U.S. education system and the workplace. How can policymakers bridge the gap and create clear pathways to good jobs?

April 15, 2021

If a budget represents values, then the White House’s FY2022 discretionary budget request shows the new administration places the greatest value on equity, social spending, health, and environment. It places much less value on national security and economic competitiveness.

April 14, 2021

The United States has a long and successful history for industrial policies, and as the Biden administration and policymakers consider new policies, some raise concerns with its “similarities” to China.

April 12, 2021

As America seeks to counter a rising China, no nation is more important than India, with its vast size, abundance of highly skilled technical professionals, and strong political and cultural ties with the United States. But the parallels between America’s dependency on China for manufacturing and its dependency on India for IT services are striking.

Recent Events and Presentations

June 10, 2021

Please join us for an 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.

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.

January 6, 2021

ITIF hosted an expert debate on these issues, featuring Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, who has argued that the United States must accept China’s rise, and ITIF President Robert Atkinson, who argued America and Europe must work together to constrain China, particularly its drive to dominate advanced technology industries.

December 10, 2020

Rob Atkinson spoke at the Asia Times webinar on the Biden Administration's tech policy, including the tech war with China.

November 12, 2020

ITIF hosted a debate in which Acemoglu and Atkinson laid out their views about the future of automation technology and the effects it may have on U.S. competitiveness and the economy.

October 7, 2020

ITIF hosted a discussion of these issues, including how U.S. businesses are likely to be affected and what the U.S. government should do in response. An expert panel will discuss a recent ITIF report arguing the United States and its allies should focus on rebalancing global supply chains, bolstering competitiveness, adjusting to China’s market size, and solidifying the West’s appeal.

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.

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