WHEN BILL BROCK took over the Labor Department in the spring of 1985, the agency was a toxic dump. Relations with organized labor were raw. No department had suffered larger budget cuts or been torn farther from its policy moorings. A dispute was raging over OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. As the new secretary came to office, that stood as a metaphor for the broader state of affairs he inherited. The administrator had refused even to order large agricultural producers to provide field toilets for farm workers. Too costly, he said, too great a federal intrusion.

In the two-plus years that he has led it, Mr. Brock -- as is his wont -- has smoothly redirected and greatly restored the department; he has civilized it again. The policy disputes with organized labor remain, but the debate is . . . civil. OSHA is back in business, still not what its critics would like -- it never has been -- but moving in a more respectable direction. Mr. Brock successfully led the resistance inside the administration to a weakening of the affirmative action program for government contractors; in this he fended off Attorney General Edwin Meese, who may now have again at his successor. On other issues -- minimum wage, the government's obligation to workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition -- the secretary was able to feather the administration's position and propose compromises that kept it in the game. With others in the administration he has also joined to keep the steel industry from raiding the pension insurance program.

Mr. Brock is one of that moderate stripe of Republicans who are always being maligned within their party, almost exactly in proportion to the good they do it. As chairman of the Republican National Committee he helped rebuild the GOP in the later 1970s much as he has done the Labor Department now. He also served the administration ably as special trade representative.

He leaves to run the presidential campaign of Bob Dole, no doubt as great a gain there as it is a loss within the Cabinet. Mr. Brock has served not just the administration but the country well.