The chief of the federal agency that keeps watch over US waters and weather patterns has resigned after seven years at the helm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, announced his resignation today. His last day on the job is Oct. 31.

The announcement on the NOAA Web site doesn’t say why Lautenbacher is stepping down from his post. But Anson Franklin, a NOAA spokesman, said the resignation isn't unexpected. "I don’t think it's been a surprise to anybody," Franklin tells us. "He's been here for almost seven years, which is a lifetime for political appointees. He's made it clear for a year or so that he'd probably depart before the end of the administration and ended up staying on. He feels he's completed the major projects he was working on and was just ready to move on."

One of those projects was establishing an ocean hall in the Smithsonian, which is slated to open at the end of this week, Franklin says.

"I am most grateful for your leadership and offer my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to you and as well to NOAA’s dedicated career force that has made all of these and many more achievements possible,” Lautenbacher wrote in a letter to President Bush. “While I have both enjoyed my tenure and been proud to serve, it is time to make room for those who will follow and build on the legacy of NOAA created by this Administration.”

NOAA houses the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center. Assistant secretary Bill Brennan will take over after Lautenbacher leaves, Franklin says.

(Image of Conrad Lautenbacher by NOAA)