An admiral in charge of buying weapons, equipment and spare parts for the Navy has resigned, apparently because he disagrees with moves to assert greater civilian control over weapons procurement.

Adm. Steven White, 56, chief of the Naval Materiel Command, will retire May 1 after 33 years of service, a Navy spokesman said yesterday.

White cited "personal reasons" for leaving his post after 16 months, rejecting a plea by Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. to continue in his job, officials said. White had been expected to remain in the job for four years.

Although White's agency has aroused controversy because of defense contractor scandals, Pentagon officials emphasized that his retirement has nothing to do with ongoing investigations by Congress and the Justice Department.

Nor, they said, is it linked to Lehman's decision to elevate procurement specialists to admiral slots, which in the past have gone mainly to officers who had proven themselves at sea.

White, a former submarine commander who served under now-retired admiral Hyman G. Rickover, has disagreed with moves by Lehman to increase civilian control over an agency that spends more than $50 billion a year on research, procurement, production and management of naval weapons and spare parts, according to a defense official.

One policy move diluted White's authority in personnel matters by assigning assistant Navy secretaries to participate in the evaluation of his subordinate officers.

White, a four-star admiral, became head of the 240,000-employe division in August 1983 and has presided at a time of investigations into charges that General Dynamics Corp. bid low on contracts for submarines and then improperly billed the Navy for cost overruns.

General Dynamics officials have acknowledged giving thousands of dollars in gifts to Rickover, who supervised the Navy's nuclear shipbuilding program.

White was unavailable for comment yesterday.