It doesn't seem that long ago when Marcia McNutt (eponym of the McNutt Maneuver) took her position as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey. But along with the usual bustle of departing political appointees with a new presidential term, her announcement that she will leave as of February 15 strikes me as a bit unusual. Her role has been under-the-radar scientific, although her first year on the job was marked by the Haiti earthquake, the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout (when she personally joined the government's scientific SWAT team) and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
She cited a desire to be closer to her family (in California), but everyone says that. Her boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, had not yet jumped ship, and McNutt enjoyed the historic privilege of being his official science advisor. (Since then, Salazar has announced his departure.)
Perhaps one of her reasons is external. The San Diego Reader has an item today suggesting that she may have her eyes on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where the current head has unexpectedly retired and a search committee was set up two days ago to look for "a candidate at the full professor level who must be a scholar of distinction with an international reputation" with "a record of effective academic administration and leadership skills beneficial to the mission of Scripps." It seems to me that McNutt, who was head of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute before going to Washington, would be a shoo-in. UPDATE: McNutt laughed off that idea in an interview published January 16. (Disclosure: I worked at the USGS when McNutt was a young phenom there, like me.)