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

February 23, 2021

If the goal is to improve the working conditions and benefits of lower-wage workers, then instead of targeting the big firms that actually treat their employees better than small firms, Chairman Sanders would be best advised to focus on pursuing his goal of a $15 minimum wage.

February 22, 2021

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is at the center of a contentious, high-stakes debate about free speech, intermediary liability, and the future of the Internet.

February 19, 2021

The reality is that a higher minimum wage would boost productivity growth for the simple reason that when the price of labor is high, the return on investments in labor-saving technology is higher.

February 18, 2021

The most important thing to understand is that U.S. policy will not return to the status quo that existed before President Donald Trump.

February 16, 2021

Taxing digital advertising is discriminatory. Why not tax highway billboards, TV ads, or newspaper ads? The obvious answer is that lawmakers want to grab revenue from out-of-state firms in an ill-advised, distortionary attempt to shore up state tax coffers.

February 11, 2021

Congress should pass Postal Service reform legislation that focuses on two key things: freeing up USPS to make the kinds of reforms it needs to reduce costs, and establishing a Technology Innovation Fund to enable robotic last-mile postal delivery.

February 8, 2021

Understanding what AI can do—and perhaps more importantly what it cannot—is critical for understanding the substantial benefits AI can bring to many sectors of the economy and society.

February 3, 2021

The overarching goal of U.S. economic policy should not be to help either investors or the middle class, it should be to ensure strong enterprises in the United States.

February 3, 2021

Forcing the federal government and contractors to buy more U.S.-made products will either increase prices (and raise taxes) or reduce procurement levels. If the administration is to go down that path, it needs to be sure that cost is worth it.

January 28, 2021

When it comes to the economy, the Biden administration will have to focus on three things: COVID, a recovery package, and China. Competing with China will require a robust, sector-focused industrial strategy, writes Rob Atkinson in American Compass. Building political support for this strategy means arduously reprogramming an entire chain of glitchy logic.

January 25, 2021

The next production revolution will be a boon for a global economy that is sputtering and experiencing lagging growth and investment. This new technology wave should lead to a virtuous cycle of increased investment, higher productivity, more spending, and more investment.

January 25, 2021

When it comes to federal investment in science, the free-marketers’ argument that the private sector can and will do most of the heavy lifting and that government can let federal support for R&D stagnate or even shrink is mistaken.

Recent Events and Presentations

March 24, 2021

Please join ITIF and the Institute for Policy Integrity for a discussion about the report and the path to a road user pricing system.

March 22, 2021

Please join ITIF for a discussion 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.

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.

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