Born circa 1953 in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, which professes to be the birthplace of the commercial tomato, Parham was inspired by his father, who served many years as a veterinarian for APHIS. Parham earned a B.S. in Microbiology at the Ohio State University in 1975, a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the same school in 1980, and a Masters of Administrative Science at the Johns Hopkins University in 1986. As a trainee veterinarian testing cattle for brucellosis in Florida, Parham found that he had to keep an eye out for alligators.
Parham began his Federal career in July 1980 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the Public Health Service at the Centers for Disease Control. He joined USDA in November 1982 as Staff Officer for Epidemiology in the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1986, he was promoted to Chief of the Epidemiology Branch of FSIS, remaining there until 1990, when he was named Director for Distance Education and Information Technology in the [then] Extension Service in Washington, DC. In 1994, he began serving as the National Program Leader for Livestock Production and Extension Veterinary Medicine in the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, which was the predecessor of today’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
In 1997, he took another information technology position, serving as the Executive Sponsor for USDA’s Year 2000–or “Y2K”–Remediation until 2000, when he transitioned to being Associate Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Information Resources Management in the Office of the USDA CIO, where he was credited with reducing the department’s IT portfolio costs by 30 percent in a two-year period, mostly by eliminating redundant information systems. In March 2006, Parham started working for APHIS, first as CIO until January 2008, then as Deputy Administrator for Marketing and Regulatory Programs–Business Services from February 2008 to October 2009, and as Associate Administrator from November 2009 to April 2011.