From D.C. to Seattle, Shaping foreign policy in both Washingtons
As a political appointee in the U.S. State Department, Manisha Singh (JD 94) provided leadership and created policy as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs. Now, as the fi rst executive director of the Barer Institute for Law and Global Human Services at the University of Washington School of Law, she is still crafting policy, but this time in an academic setting.
“The goal of the Barer Institute is to utilize lawyers as leaders in providing advice and solutions to accomplish humanitarian aid objectives,” said Singh. “Because I would be the first person to serve as director, I thought it was a neat opportunity to shape and define a brand new institute.”
Using U.S. foreign assistance as an example of problems the institute will address, Singh said there has been no good tracking mechanism in place to monitor how effectively U.S. aid has been used in other countries. Less than one percent of the U.S. federal budget goes to humanitarian aid and this money should be more effectively targeted than it is now, she said.
“If a country is receiving money to build hospitals, do they have the capacity to do so, and later do they have the resources, like doctors and nurses to staff such hospitals? If not, then we should insure that our aid packages have an infrastructure and training component as well,” Singh said. “Isn’t that better than just, ‘Here’s X amount of money for hospitals?’ ”
Lawyers can play an important role in these areas because how the aid programs are implemented is based on legislation, whether it is executive branch or legislative branch action, she said. Within this framework, the institution will focus on health care, education and economic development; providing legal roadmaps, advising policy decisions and creating viable solutions with long-term benefits.
Although this is Singh’s fi rst position in an academic institution, her background in the legal field and in government made her a prime candidate for the job as executive director. In addition to working at the State Department, Singh has served as deputy chief counsel to the Republican staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.); a position where she drafted legislation, wrote statements for senators and was even asked to sit in with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a meeting with the president of Panama.
“The times I assisted Secretary Rice were just amazing, she’s one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet,” Singh said. “Just to see her in action with these heads of state — wow. She can more than hold her own with any head of state.”
Although Singh spent a lot of time working in Washington, D.C., and now lives in Seattle, she still appreciates coming home to visit her family in Lake Alfred, where her father is a UF faculty member at the IFAS extension.
“The nice thing about having parents in Florida is that the weather is always better than wherever I am,” Singh said.
Singh is also appreciative of her education at the UF Levin College of Law.
“For any UF grads who want to work in Washington or work in the foreign policy field, I very much encourage them,” she said. “I think the University of Florida has a good name, a good reputation. That’s where my training is; that’s where I learned to be a lawyer and I’ve made my career based on my training at UF.”