The veterinarian becomes a CIO

Gregory Parham combines his career interests in epidemiology and information technology

Gregory Parham, who has spent much of his career at the Agriculture Department, likes to talk about his youth in Reynoldsburg, a small town in central Ohio that professes to be the birthplace of the commercial tomato. By sharing that historical detail, Parham reveals that his agricultural roots run deep.

Gregory Parham Besides coming from a town that is proud of its tomatoes, Parham has other agricultural ties. His father was a veterinarian who worked at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Parham, who is also a veterinarian, became APHIS’ chief information officer in March.

In his new role, Parham said he will focus on maximizing the agency’s information technology resources. Since taking the position, Parham said, he has tried to learn all he can about the agency and has spent much of his time learning about APHIS’ mission.

The position is not quite what he expected. Parham said he knew that APHIS had an expansive mission, but its breadth and depth are greater than he realized.

Preventing bioterrorism, for example, is a major part of that mission. APHIS responds to new bioterrorism threats in the same way it deals with animal diseases. It identifies potential problems and tries to mitigate the risks they pose. APHIS has faced many unfamiliar threats and found practices and procedures to deal with them, he said.

One important program in development is a national animal identification system that would control disease outbreaks by using IT to track livestock from the farm to the slaughterhouse, Parham said. It requires close partnerships with states and the livestock industry.

Parham’s colleagues said they are glad to see him in his new position as CIO. “He understands the fundamental issues of the agency in a way that very few CIOs could because of his background” in IT and veterinary research, said Anne Reed, president of Acquisition Solutions and former USDA CIO. She said Parham is focused and intellectually curious.

Several years ago, Reed asked Parham to be executive leader of the USDA’s Year 2000 code-conversion program. He performed that role well and continued to work in the CIO’s office, she said. As APHIS’ CIO, “he’ll bring a level of professionalism to the position” and will find ways to use IT to improve how the agency performs its mission, she added.

Another former colleague described Parham as an excellent fit at APHIS. “First and foremost, Greg Parham is a fine human being,” said Ira Hobbs, CIO of the Treasury Department and a former USDA deputy CIO. He said Parham is a dependable man with integrity, compassion and conviction. “It’s been a fine tribute that he’s become a CIO,” Hobbs said.

As a former associate CIO at the USDA, Parham reduced the department’s IT portfolio costs by 30 percent in a two-year period, mostly by eliminating redundant information systems.

Parham keeps up with his health science interest. The spread of disease among animals and from animals to humans fascinates him.

“I was very interested in diseases and populations,” he said, adding that he studied epidemiology within the field of veterinary medicine.

Parham’s transition from veterinary medicine to IT occurred after he graduated from vet school and got a job as an epidemic intelligence officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “To be able to have that kind of an opportunity…gave me a real sense of the kinds of things you can do in the government,” he said.

Parham studied rabies in wild animals throughout the central United States by using computers to generate maps and models that showed how the disease spread. At that time, mainframes were dominant in the computing world, and PCs were new. That experience and other opportunities offered by the government drew Parham into a life of public service. Many of the jobs that interest him would be difficult to do elsewhere, he said. Working in the federal government, he can combine his veterinary expertise with IT.

“When you look at what the opportunities are to do a lot of varied kinds of things, the government is a pretty good place,” he said.

The Gregory Parham FileCurrent position: Chief information officer at the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Career highlights: Parham was associate chief information officer for information resources management at USDA headquarters from 2000 to 2006. He was executive sponsor of the USDA’s Year 2000 Program Office from 1997 to 2000 and national program leader for veterinary medicine and livestock production in the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service from 1995 to 1997. He also served as head of the Distance Education and Information Technology unit of the USDA’s Extension Service from 1990 to 1995.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Ohio State University, master’s degree in administrative science from Johns Hopkins University and doctor of veterinary medicine from Ohio State University.

Family: His wife, Delila, is also a veterinarian and works at the USDA. They met at Ohio State and have two sons: Philip, 19, and John, 11.

Outside activities: Reading and gardening. He said he prefers growing plants in pots so the deer can’t eat them.

Favorite local spot: His son’s school, Ascension Lutheran School in Hyattsville, Md. “There are just so many activities that they have going on,” he said.

Management tip: “Put people first.”

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above