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

December 9, 2019

The federal government should take aggressive steps to spur the development of more tech hubs in America’s heartland by identifying promising metro areas and helping them transform into self-sustaining innovation centers.

December 2, 2019

The most important policy to boost economic opportunity is one that focuses on shifting the occupational mix toward fewer low-wage jobs and more middle-wage ones.

November 26, 2019

Congress should ratify the proposed USMCA and in particular support its provision requiring 10 years of data protection for biologic drugs. The result will be a more competitive U.S. biopharmaceutical industry, more high-paying American jobs and more incentives to produce new cures.

November 25, 2019

Rob Atkinson explains in the National Review that with the proper safeguards, facial-recognition technology can help law enforcement catch criminals.

November 16, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes for Business Insider, it is time for the United States follow China's lead and develop robust national strategies to support the development of foundational technologies. Doing so will drive U.S. productivity growth while helping the United States outcompete China.

November 15, 2019

As ITIF President Rob Atkinson and Jonathan Ward, founder of Atlas Organization, write in an op-ed for Fox Business, focusing on domestic productivity and preserving the U.S. edge in advanced and emerging technologies will help America win the economic and technological contest against China, as well as turn the tide in the U.S.-China competition for global power.

November 12, 2019

Contrary to common belief, enterprise automation is not a cause for alarm, but instead a societal imperative. Modern nations will need all the productivity they can get to address today’s ever-more-resource-constrained challenges.

November 1, 2019

So, let’s all take a deep breath and say together: “Technological change is not accelerating, but it would sure be nice if it would.”

October 28, 2019

Growing animus toward “Big Tech” companies and generalized opposition to technological innovation engenders support for policies that are expressly designed to inhibit it. That is deeply problematic for future progress, prosperity, and competitiveness.

October 23, 2019

Nearly 25 percent of all R&D expenditures in China come in the form of government subsidies to firms. It would be ideal if China dramatically reduced these innovation subsidies so American workers in innovation industries would face a level playing field, but the chances of that happening are slim to none. It is time for the federal government to step up its game and provide significantly more support for industrial R&D.

October 21, 2019

The United States continues to fall further behind world leaders in funding for university research. To reverse course, it should increase support by $45 billion per year and provide stronger incentives for businesses to increase their investments.

October 15, 2019

The use of robotics will increase productivity and has the potential to bring more manufacturing production work back to developed countries. As productivity increases, labor is likely to receive a significant share of the benefits.

Recent Events and Presentations

December 11, 2019

The U.S. technology sector continues to grow rapidly, driving the nation’s innovation and overall economic growth.

September 12, 2019

ITIF released a new report laying out a productivity-focused agenda for federal science and engineering research, and a panel explored how increasing government spending on R&D can help advance technology, boost productivity, and improve living standards.

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.

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

ITIF hosted 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

ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion on impact drug-price controls have and what effect, if any, mandated drug-price reductions would have on biopharmaceutical innovation and U.S. industry competitiveness.

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.

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