President-Elect Biden’s Agenda on Technology and Innovation Policy

The president-elect’s overall approach to technology and innovation policy appears to be formulated to engage the government as an active partner alongside industry in spurring innovation—but also as a tougher regulator of many tech industries and technologies.

Introduction

Technological innovation has long been and will continue to be critically important to per-capita income growth, economic competitiveness, and national security. So it is important to examine President-elect Joe Biden’s policy agenda through that lens.

This report compiles information from the president-elect’s campaign website and policy documents, from the Democratic Party platform, and from media accounts of statements he has made. The report begins with an overview of the general philosophy the president-elect has articulated on tech and innovation policy, and then examines his policy positions and likely initiatives across 10 issue areas:

  • Innovation and Research and Development
  • Digital Economy
  • Broadband
  • Education and Skills
  • Taxes
  • Regulation
  • Trade
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Life Sciences
  • Clean Energy Innovation

General Philosophy Toward Technology and Innovation Policy

Perhaps the simplest way to frame the Biden administration’s likely program on tech, innovation, and related trade policy is: more spending, more regulation, more multilateralism. The Biden White House is likely to push for significant increases in public investment in areas like R&D, rural broadband and closing the digital divide, plus education and training—all areas of great need after decades of government underinvestment. Yet at the same time, the new administration will likely face significant pressures from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to push for higher taxes on business and more extensive and restrictive regulations on technology and the tech sector, in areas such as privacy, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, Internet platforms, broadband, antitrust, drug pricing, and a host of others. The risk is that these burdens will outweigh the benefits of greater public investment in innovation.

When it comes to addressing the significant array of critical international issues related to tech and innovation, including how to approach competition with China, Internet governance, and cross-border data flows, the Biden administration is likely to engage more with international institutions and work more closely with U.S. allies than the Trump administration. But while the Biden administration is likely to be more assertive than the Obama administration was when it comes to confronting Chinese innovation mercantilism, it is likely to be less assertive than the Trump administration has been. When it comes to immigration, the Biden administration is likely to embrace increases in both high- and low-skill immigration, but also limit H1-B immigration.

Overall, Biden’s approach to technology and innovation policy appears to be formulated to engage the government as an active partner alongside industry in setting a national technology and innovation agenda, as well as a tougher regulator of many technologies and tech industries. Moreover, the Biden agenda is likely to focus its innovation policy on addressing social policy goals, more than competitiveness, productivity, and national security goals. These are likely to include climate change, revitalizing economically distressed communities and regions, and supporting economic opportunities among disadvantaged groups, especially racial minorities.

Overall, the public record of President-elect Biden’s official positions and statements during the campaign provide an outline of the general philosophy that will likely guide his administration on technology and innovation policy:

  • The policy approach will likely be formulated to engage government as both an active partner with industry in supporting R&D and domestic production and as a tougher regulator of many technology industries and technology areas, such as privacy.
  • The new administration is likely to expand investment to achieve social goals, such as minority opportunity, regional growth, and climate solutions, while potentially cutting other areas, especially defense spending.
  • The president-elect has highlighted support for significantly increased public investment in R&D and advanced production.
  • He supports massive increases in clean energy R&D funding.
  • He has proposed significant increases in public investment in education and skills.
  • Biden questions Washington consensus on trade and has focused on being tough with China—but he supports a multilateral approach.
  • He embraces the traditional Democratic position on immigration, which has supported increases in both high- and low-skill immigration, but limits on H1-b visas.
  • Biden supports greater federal investment in rural broadband infrastructure and closing the digital divide.
  • He supports higher taxes on business, particularly large corporations.
  • He supports stronger regulations, including on privacy and broadband providers, and more aggressive antitrust enforcement, particularly on large Internet companies.
  • He supports significantly limiting Section 230 protections.
President-Elect Biden’s Agenda on Technology and Innovation Policy