Robert D. Atkinson
As founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), recognized as the world’s 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. He is also an adjunct professor at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.
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.
Latin America’s Advanced Industry Decline: What Explains the Region’s Poor Performance in Growing, or Even Retaining, Its Global Competitiveness in Advanced Industries?
If Latin America wants to avoid this fate, it needs to make a key decision: does it want to look east to China or north to the United States. The United States is leading the world in efforts to get China to roll back its unfair, mercantilist trade and economic policies. But that task will be much harder if the region sides with China or avoids the fight altogether and sits on the sidelines.
The World After Ukraine
Putin’s attack should galvanize real foreign policy, defense policy, and industrial policy cooperation among democratic, allied nations.
The Economics of Data, With David Deming
Rob and Jackie sat down with David Deming, the Academic Dean and a Professor of Political Economy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, to discuss the importance of data, data sharing, and ways to protect individual data privacy.
India vs China: The Advanced Industry Production Race
While China surged ahead in 1995 in terms of advanced industry production, the current odds are stacked in India’s favour. If correct actions are taken, we can easily surpass China.
Korea’s Advanced Industry Success Story
Over the last quarter-century, Korea's advanced-industry performance has been superlative and lags only behind Taiwan.
How Flawed Thinking Limits America’s National Industrial Strategy
Before policymakers can act, there needs to be a consensus that there is a problem, and a role for policy in solving it. When it comes to competitiveness, too many in Washington don’t recognize this.
If Congress Wants to Help American Workers, It Should Not Require Two-Person Train Crews
As technology such as Positive Train Control systems has improved, and further advances in autonomous systems look promising, freight rail companies would like the flexibility of operating trains with less than two operators, not so they can raise profits, but so they can reduce prices to better compete with the trucking sector.
The Hamilton Index: Assessing National Performance in the Competition for Advanced Industries
Compared to major competitors, U.S. output in key advanced industries is weak and declining. Congress and the administration should launch an economic “moon shot” initiative committing to increase the concentration of these industries in the U.S. economy by at least 20 percentage points relative to the global average within a decade.
Podcast: When the Chips Are Down: Why Domestic Semiconductor Production Matters, With John Zysman
Rob and Jackie sat down with John Zysman, a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and co-founder/co-director of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy, to discuss why U.S. semiconductor production has dropped so far down, what it portends, and how America can regain its footing in the industry.
Podcast: China’s Race to the Top: Authoritarianism in Technology and Global Affairs, With Keith Krach
China is taking an authoritarian approach in its quest to be a dominant power in technology and global affairs. Silicon Valley innovator and former Under Secretary of State Keith Krach has a unique perspective on both aspects.
How the Heritage Foundation Is Wrong About the CHIPS Act
The disturbing reality is that if U.S. global share shrinks much more the United States will have passed a tipping point where all the subsidies in the world would not be enough to restore production, because of the lack of skilled engineers and technicians, suppliers, knowhow, and other factors.
Roadmap for Korea-US Technology Cooperation
It is time for much closer technology cooperation between the United States and our allied partners, particularly Korea. While Korean and U.S. firms will continue to compete ― fairly and by the rules, unlike Chinese firms ― Korea and America also need to focus on "coopetition": both competing and cooperating.
Recent Events and Presentations
Devil in the Details: Reconciling the House and Senate Versions of Competitiveness Legislation
Watch ITIF and an expert panel featuring key policymakers and leading analysts who discussed how to bring House and Senate versions of competitiveness legislation across the finish line in a form that will be a winner for U.S. workers and the economy.
Dynamic Antitrust Discussion Series: “Has Economic Concentration Really Increased?”
Join ITIF for a discussion on the accuracy of the narrative put forward and whether or not market concentration has, indeed, increased with ITIF's Julie Carlson & Robert D. Atkinson, Nicholas Trachter of the Federal Reserve of Richmond, & former DOJ official, Gregory Werden.
What a National Strategic-Industry Policy Should Look Like
ITIF hosted a discussion of what a robust national strategic-industry policy should—and should not—entail.
The 4th Industrial Revolution: Political Economy Overview
Rob Atkinson was the keynote speaker at the Ministries of Korea Global Policy Conference on the 4th Industrial Revolution on December 15th, 2021.
2021 Global Trade and Innovation Policy Alliance Annual Summit
The GTIPA’s annual summits bring together alliance members with world-leading experts to explore creative solutions to the difficult economic, trade, and innovation challenges facing the international community.
Packaging Postal Reform for the E-Commerce Era
ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion on postal reform legislation, and how to ensure the continued viability of USPS as a deliverer of both mail and packages.
Cities Left Behind in Hi-Tech Innovation
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.
Biden Officials Discuss White House Supply Chain Report
ITIF hosted an in-depth discussion with members of the Biden Administration about the report, implications for policy, and potential next steps.
Schumpeter v. Brandeis v. Chicago: The Antitrust Debate of Our Times
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.”
Innovation Drag: The Impact of Chinese Economic and Trade Policies on Global Innovation
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.
Can Biden Protect US Digital Interests in Europe With a New Strategy of “Realpolitik”?
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.
Expert Q&A: VMT Fee Transition and Implementation
Rob Atkinson particpated in a an expert Q&A panel on VMT fee transition and implementation hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
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