Labor Commissioner Mark Costello’s Legacy

Commissioner Costello liked statistics and numbers.  No small wonder, he excelled at them.  He’d take a page of numbers, look them over, lean back in his chair and stare at the ceiling, and after a few seconds he’d sit up and give you a solution to a problem you likely hadn’t even noticed, or a suggestion about how to do something more efficiently, or make connections you’d overlooked.  It’s what he did, it’s who he was, and it’s what he enjoyed.  But to say Commissioner Costello was an accomplished businessman, would be akin to saying beloved Oklahoman Will Rogers was merely a comedian.  Without argument, Costello was an outstanding businessman and Rogers was an exceptional comedian, but they were much more, and each of them, in their unique way, made this state much better.

Mark Costello took office as Oklahoma’s 17th Labor Commissioner on January 10, 2011, a position he enjoyed until his untimely death on August 23, 2015.  In that short period of time Commissioner Costello managed countless improvements, implementing efficiencies to better serve Oklahomans and more effectively serve industries over which the Labor Department has oversight, and constantly improving work conditions at the office.  Here are a few of his major accomplishments:

  • He eagerly embraced the State’s IT consolidation mandate, saving taxpayers over $130,000 without sacrificing public service, and through technological advancements ODOL has continued to meet its growing responsibilities despite a smaller staff and reduced budget;
  • He reduced ODOL’s leased fleet, saving taxpayers over $90,000 annually;
  • He authorized ODOL staff within the OSHA and PEOSH divisions to assist with tornado devastation in Moore and Woodward;
  • He adjusted unsustainable compensation for ODOL’s administrative law judges (ALJ) by 66%, without sacrificing judicial experience or compromising courtroom equity; a testament to the agency’s important work and selflessness of its ALJs, who are as good as any within the state;
  • He expanded ODOL testing and licensing services, increasing the number of testing sites within the state from one to 37 by partnering with Career Tech;
  • He was instrumental in helping change Oklahoma’s costly, court-based, workers’ compensation system to an administrative system, saving Oklahoma employers tens of thousands of dollars and expediting employee’s legal benefits;
  • He accepted oversight responsibility for Oklahoma’s Alarm and Locksmith Industry and Alternative Fuels Program at a reduced cost to the state, and increased enforcement;
  • He partnered with Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to more effectively address asbestos abatement throughout the state;
  • He implemented numerous cost savings actions in the Alarm and Locksmith Industry, everything from adjusting license expiration dates to licensees’ birth months, to equipping field inspectors with updated technology, to a more user-friendly and inclusive website, to industry wide text notices, saving taxpayers more than $30,000 annually; and
  • He implemented telecommuting for the first time in ODOL’s history, thereby permitting the agency’s OSHA consultants, and Asbestos and PEOSH investigators to be strategically located throughout the state, thereby increasing productivity while reducing travel and brick-and-mortar expenses.

These are but a few of Commissioner Costello’s many accomplishments, but it’s enough to illustrate how he was constantly looking for improvements for everyone – staff, industry, and all Oklahomans.  Commissioner Costello always did the right thing for the right reason. He set high expectations for ODOL employees and provided the support and empowerment necessary for success.  He led through example and experience.

He will be missed immensely by those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him each day, and by those within the industries over which the agency had oversight, and those who unwittingly benefitted from his elevator inspections, amusement ride safety assurance, fair labor practices, and so much more.

Commissioner Costello was, and should always be remembered, as a man of strongly-held principles, whether he was expressing them through increased efficiencies at the ODOL, fair dealings at his private businesses, the boundless joy he held for his beautiful family, dedication to his faith, or simply a favorite joke he’d share with a stranger.  Commissioner Costello was a genuine and giving statesman, entrepreneur, family man, man of faith, and friend.

We miss you, Mark.

— Jim Marshall, Liz McNeill, Danielle Wade, Stacy Bonner, Oleda Hicks, Don Schooler, Diana Jones, James Buck and the entire Oklahoma Department of Labor