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 awarded him 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

August 13, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes for National Interest, the Trump administration should work toward market-based decoupling that effectively loosens China’s grip on global production.

August 12, 2019

China is challenging the United States for market share and jobs in one of the highest value-added, most innovation-intensive industries—and the risks extend not just to the U.S. economy, but to global biopharma innovation.

August 12, 2019

The United States is continuing to drift in the wrong direction when it comes to federal funding for research and development (R&D).

August 9, 2019

Successful negotiations between two parties—whether between spouses, companies, or in the case of the trade war with China, countries—depend on each side having an honest assessment of their part in the conflict.

August 6, 2019

A report by ITIF for the MAPI Foundation, a research subsidiary of the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI).

August 2, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes for IndustryWeek, both Congress and the administration have an opportunity to once again ensure that America leads in the world in R&D support.

August 1, 2019

The United States is one of the most prosperous economies on earth because our elected officials and other leaders have embraced, or at least accepted, “creative destruction.”

July 29, 2019

Perhaps the most important step developing nations need to take is throw lump-of-labor thinking overboard and embrace productivity growth, including from technology like self-service gas stations.

July 29, 2019

Because of their “gatekeeper” role as prescribers, optometrists have often been able to stifle competition from online and “big box” retailers and thereby limit consumer choice in the sales of contact lenses. It is in this context that the FTC is rightly proposing new rules governing contact lens prescription release.

July 26, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes for Morning Consult, the Senate should embrace innovation and charge the Department of Transportation with establishing a national road user charging system.

July 25, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes in National Review, increasing productivity cuts costs, which are passed on to consumers and workers through lower prices and higher wages.

June 29, 2019

Following a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 meetings in Tokyo, President Trump stated that he had agreed to lift the “deemed export” ban on Huawei.

Recent Events and Presentations

September 12, 2019

R&D has driven economic progress since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and federal funding for scientific and engineering research has played a key role in the development and adoption of new technologies, especially technologies that boost productivity. Join ITIF for the release of a new report that lays out a productivity-focused agenda for federal science and engineering research and analyzes the effect it will have on GDP growth and the federal budget.

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. Where are we today with robotic development? What are the key technological challenges to overcome? What is the government’s role in supporting robotics development and adoption? And, of course, what is the likely impact on employment?

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

The escalating trade war between the United States and China has launched an intense debate in Washington about what, if anything, the U.S. should do in response to China's mercantilist policies. Join ITIF for 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

There is an increasingly intense focus in Washington on reducing the price of drugs to bring down health care costs.

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.

March 28, 2019

The United States has long been a magnet for the best talent in the world, particularly in science and engineering disciplines. But now, as American policymakers engage in a necessary debate about low-skill immigration, that issue has been conflated with the separate issue of high-skill STEM immigration, and the unfortunate result has been unduly harsh scrutiny and stricter limits on the latter. ITIF hosted a panel discussion exploring the controversies of the H-1B visa.

March 22, 2019

ITIF and an expert panel discussed the consequences of various reforms to the U.S. Postal Service.

December 12, 2018

While the technology industry was once seen as being committed to building a better and smarter world, shifting public perceptions towards the tech industry have caused it to go on the defensive when it comes to issues ranging from data privacy to income equity, workplace diversity, and antitrust enforcement. Has the technology industry become worthy of the same scrutiny as the oil, banking, or airline industry? Join ITIF for an in-depth discussion of these critical issues, including an assessment of the validity of commonly voiced concerns and what the industry needs to do to avoid becoming the next Big Oil.

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