Badass Bureaucrat

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Some bureaucrats are a bother. Others are overworked. However this one is a lord or lady of the office, and even the most powerful kneel before them. This is a character no one on the outside knows about. Others get the glory, but they get the job done and well enough to earn praise from their fellows. They are living paper shredders who cut through red tape like a buzz saw, and are usually very good with being The Scrounger.

While not Always Female, especially in this day and age, Badass Bureaucrat seems to overlap most often with the fairer sex. In this case, she's likely to be young and attractive and very much a Plucky Office Girl, but with a streak of an Iron Lady as well. Often this is a female intelligence analyst who is something of an indirect Lady of War. Sometimes her Love Interest will be one of her field agents. Their general behavior is rather like an Apron Matron in their dedication and their hidden but intimidating air of authority. Expect this character brings these traits to work.

Regardless of gender, they are something like The Consigliere but tend to work farther in the background. If circumstances call upon them to go into peril openly, they will, of course, take a level and be more straightforward in their badassery. But for now they are just a Badass Bureaucrat.

Often found in combination with an Almighty Janitor and/or Silk Hiding Steel.

Examples of Badass Bureaucrat include:

Anime and Manga

  • In both versions of Fullmetal Alchemist, Maes Hughes is certifiably badass as he uncovers a lot of The Conspiracy through sheer investigation and intelligence not to mention that he takes out both both Envy and Lust single handed; too bad they are both immortal.
  • In X 1999, Yuuto Kigai and Kanoe work in the Japanese government (he's an office worker in a Tokyo ward, she's the Sexy Secretary to the Prime Minister). Kanoe leads the Dragons of Earth and Yuuto is The Dragon to her.
  • Yami no Matsuei gives us the Right-Hand Hottie to Chief Konoe, Seiichirou Tatsumi. Very handsome, very smart, and has the power to manipulate shadows.

Comic Books

  • Barracuda has this moment when he lays eyes on The Punisher for the first time.
  • Henry Gyrich of Marvel Comics has his moments, despite usually being at best an anti-villain. See his epic victory over the Man-Ape in Black Panther, using nothing but his encyclopidic knowlege of the law.


  • Pam, in The Man Who Never Was, and most of the other main characters.
  • Lawrence starts off as this in Lawrence of Arabia
  • The middle-aged professionals in Old School are noted for being really good at filing paperwork.

Live Action TV

  • Hetty from NCIS: Los Angeles. She is both a bureaucrat and a former agent who once wrecked a Ferrari in Monte Carlo and is proficient in numerous exotic weapons. She is nicknamed "The Duchess of Deception"
  • Radar from M*A*S*H.
    • Klinger later manages to grow into the role after Radar gets sent back to the States.
  • Bunpei Shiratori, a local government bureaucrat from Inba, Japan, is an All-Star competitor on Ninja Warrior. A particularly memorable competition had him recovering from heat exhaustion to advance all the way to the third stage.
  • Esther Drummond in Torchwood: Miracle Day. She's not very good at gathering intelligence, or being professional and seperating her work from her personal life, or coping with high risk situations, but give her a pile of data, and she's sure to advance the plot.
  • Joan from Mad Men. Pretty much everyone in the office acknowledges that she really runs the place and is one of the only people who knows how the office bureaucracy and logistics truly works.
  • Sherlock: Mycroft Holmes claims to have a minor position within the British government. It is heavily implied that Mycroft Holmes is the British government. He does, after all, control all the CCTV cameras in London. And is possibly the head of MI 6.
  • Donna from Doctor Who is a variation: although she never made it past temp,[1] she can pretty much single-handedly run an office, work out complex calendar systems, type 100 words a minute and do a Sherlock Scan of office file systems. She saves the day a few times over with those skills.


  • Jack Ryan starts off as this in The Hunt for Red October. If anyone wants to know something, talk to him.
    • There is also a secretary referred to who, while directors come and go, she "really" runs the CIA.
  • Anyone and everyone working for Her Royal Majesty's Laundry Service who is not an Obstructive Bureaucrat or sniveling incompetent is revealed to have elements of this trope.
  • Jorj X. McKie and probably everyone at the Bureau of Sabotage in Con Sentiency.
  • Several of Lord Vetinari's "dark clerks" in the Discworld are Assassin's Guild-trained. How much actual clerical work they do seems to depend on the assignment...
    • Inigo Skimmer in The Fifth Elephant is one of them, a small man with a way of nervously clearing his throat and an expert on Überwald politics, who, left alone with a group of bandits, killed seven before the rest fled.
    • A.E. Pessimal from Thud!' deserves at least honorary mention, notable for attacking a troll (which are made of rock) with his teeth.
    • Even the regular clerks get a touch of this at the end of Going Postal, where the description of the clerks auditing Reacher Gilt's finances makes forensic accountancy sound like an inexorable, inescapable force of Truth.
    • On the other hand (or at least the hand that pays him more) is Mr. Slant, zombie attorney and president of the Guild of Lawyers, whose death only made him work through lunch breaks. He can quiet a roomful of attorneys with a glance, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of case and precedent because he was there and helped write it.
    • And don't forget Mr. Bent, from Making Money, who runs the bank accountants with an iron fist... and took out assassins with long-forgotten, probably genetic clowning techniques!
  • Invoked in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. Ivan Vorpatril's wife is impressed when he finally demonstrates that he's quite capable in a fight. "And you said you were just a desk pilot," she murmurs, and Ivan replies, "But it's a Barrayaran desk."


  • Savatage's song "Chance" is about Chiune Sugihara and the turmoil he must have felt as he destroyed his career to do the right thing, see the Real Life section below.
  • "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" by CAKE is about the narrator's love for a female badass bureaucrat. She "uses a machete to cut through red tape."

Tabletop Games

  • The few notable Vilani commanders in the Interstellar Wars era of Traveller tended to be this. Vilani bureaucracy is so convoluted that only a Badass can survive it. But several do and do so quite well.
    • The alien race of the Bwaps has this as it's hat.
  • In Exalted the number of things that can be accomplished by members of the Celestial Bureaucracy with the mere stroke of a pen can be staggering. Some of the most noteworthy are the Sidereal Exalted who are at the forefront of the Buraeu of Destiny. The most powerful Sidereal, Chejop Kejak, hasn't been using his powers much in the past several centuries, but maintains incredible power in Heaven through the number of committees he chairs or has membership in (which amounts to virtually all of them), and in Creation through his status as advisor to the Scarlet Empress, tutor to her children, and secretary of the head of the most powerful religion in the world.
    • In the First Age, we have Salina. To recap, Salina is (in)famous for a Working that literally rewrote the laws of reality. The only thing exceeding this achievement is the amount of bureaucratic wrangling she managed to pull off to secure the official support and logistics required to implement it.
      • To underline the scope of the above accomplishment, it is vanishingly unlikely that there was so much as one other Solar Exalted in Creation who would have agreed with her idea to rewrite reality and make Sorcery a skill that could be self-taught, and by doing so completely breaking the Solar Deliberative's monopoly on sorcerous education. A majority of three hundred Solar Deliberators had to upvote her measure to be approved. She bureaucrat-fu'ed so well that at least 150 other Solars, up to sixty of whom may have been Eclipse Caste, literally did not know what they were actually voting for.
        • Even more noteworthy in that Salina was a Zenith caste - meaning she was neither the caste most optimized for designing the Working in the first place (Twilight) or the one most optimized for getting it through a Deliberate sanction vote (Eclipse).
    • This is one of the key talents of Eclipse Caste Solars. Give an Eclipse ten minutes, a piece of parchment, and a pen, and he will snare your entire government in pits of bureaucratic madness that nobody can escape, then take advantage of the chaos to go and punch a deathknight through a wall or three.

Web Comics

  • Chancellor Jarjuna of the human nation of Vasgol in The Water Phoenix King has yet to appear in person, other than one brief glimpse in a flashback to the war as a "kid in goofy armor", but he gained his position by leading the rebellion despite being only a commoner and killing a god with his own sword—and he's held onto that job for the decade since despite ongoing attacks from outside forces and fractious nobles trying to grab, or grab back the power they had before the empire was shattered. So pretty badass, despite being dismissed as a mere bureaucrat by the old nobility, and it's hinted pretty good as well—he seems to be trying, and at least partially succeeding, to be a good ruler, at least.
  • Lars Sturtz from Dominic Deegan. Most of the events in the Battle for Barthis were to either delay or distract Brakkis, the Lawful Evil Corrupt Corporate Executive, so that Lars could navigate the legal system to rescind the unsubstantiated declaration of corruption on the town, grant the citizens disaster relief, circumvent Gregory's "debts", organize a benefit concert, and expedite the rebuilding protocols.
  • In Girl Genius, Vanamonde von Mekkahn looks like a young loafer who does nothing but laze around and drink coffee all day. In reality, Vanamonde secretly runs the town of Mechanicsburg from his seat in the coffee shop, can rally the people of the town into highly effective guerrilla fighters against the Wulfenbach army in a matter of hours, and will utterly mess you up if you dare threaten a member of the Heterodyne family.
    • By necessity, Baron Wulfenbach had to become this. With the world falling apart, and everyone and their army ready to tear it further apart, Klaus did the only thing he could do; take over the world and force people to stop fighting by basically saying "Do NOT make me come over there." And It Worked. And he's miserable for it, because now he lives out his days playing the much-hated game of bureaucracy.
      • Boris Dolokhov serves as the Baron's personal secretary and administrative second-in-command. He personally organised the forces of the empire in the face of continent-wide rebellions while the Baron is incapacitated, and when faced with the mutiny of the Jagers he beats the location of the generals out of their messenger so that he can discuss the matter with them.

Western Animation

  • Bob "Mr. Incredible" Parr (From Pixar's The Incredibles) was this during his stint as an insurance claims agent, much to the chagrin of his Obstructive Bureaucrat boss Mr. Huph.
  • Roz from Monsters, Inc., also the CDA Administrator incognito
  • Hermes Conrad from Futurama once organized a forced labor camp he was imprisoned at so efficiently that all the work could be done by one Australian man.
    • He also used his organization skills to lead a fleet in a battle to retake Earth in Bender's Big Score.
  • Twilight Sparkle of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic showed shades of this in "Winter Wrap-Up" when she organized all the work so that spring came on time for the first time in Ponyville in years.
  • Councilman Tarrlok in The Legend of Korra may seem like a dandy and a Manipulative Bastard Sleazy Politician, but he is also a very powerful waterbender, and quite adept at leading the task force raid on the Equalist dojo. He is also capable of bloodbending without the need of a full moon.

Real Life

  • Betty Carp, an attractive immigrant filled this position at the OSS and earned praises from various formidable spymasters.
  • Felix Vasquez, your typical Salaryman, a Housing Authority Supervisor for the city of New York to be exact, who received a call that one of the buildings that he oversaw was on fire. After calling the fire department, he then ran to the burning apartment building, beating emergency services, and saw a woman who was waving her baby out of a window. When he told her not to throw the baby, the woman misunderstood and threw her baby out of the window. Having only seconds to spare, Felix hopped a freaking fence and caught the baby, saving its life. If that's not a badass bureaucrat move, then nothing is.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stuck in a training post for World War I, he never saw action leading men in combat and did not hold an indepedent command higher than a battalion before the World War II. His appointment as Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force was considered a maverick act. He turned out to be one of the most able general officers the United States has ever sent to war, at least partially because the sheer size of the Allied Expeditionary Force required someone whose skills were not those of your typical combat general.
  • Eisenhower's boss, George C. Marshall. Marshall more than any other man was the architect and builder of the United States Army that fought World War II, and as such its ultimate success in Europe and the Pacific was largely his doing. Winston Churchill called him the "organizer of victory". After the war he moved into diplomacy, where he was responsible for the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe in the late 40s and early 50s.
  • Joseph Stalin. Whatever else you might think of him, he was a bank robber and a revolutionary, and a far more charismatic and intelligent one than his most famous sources portray him as. He used bureaucracy as a springboard to establishing a personal dictatorship and in turn to annexing most of Eastern Europe and turned Russia from the least of the Great Powers into one of Earth's only two superpowers. It's only that pesky stuff like repression and mass murder that stops him being the villainous poster boy of this trope.
  • There are a number of stories of diplomats and consular officials who saved Jews from the Holocaust due to determined applications of bureaucracy. Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, saved thousands by filling out visas that allowed Jews to evacuate to Japan. He was recalled in disgrace, but he continued to fill out visas as fast as he could until the very last minute, even flinging them out of the window at the crowd as the train pulled away.
  • Similarly, Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, saved numerous Jews by falsifying paperwork permitting them to enter Sweden, then bought up apartment buildings, filled them with Jewish families, declared them Swedish sovereign territory (much like an embassy or consulate in a foreign country) and pretty much dared the Nazis to stop him. They didn't.
  • Samuel Pepys almost founded the Royal Navy on his own during the Stuart monarchs.
  • Frank J. Wilson, agent of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Internal Revenue (and later Chief of the United States Secret Service). It was his meticulous scrutiny of Al Capone's finances which allowed the criminal's arrest and conviction for tax evasion.
  • Military bureaucracy in general. Without efficient military bureaucracy, commanders would set up on their own, or make a play for dictatorship of the whole country at worst; at best they would scam their own men below them and the government above and the men would take it out on civilians. The concentrated physical force makes controlling it a miracle, while the wealth involved in military-industrial complexes practically begs for tippling(some of the tricks of military embezzlement are thousands of years old and still practiced when they can be gotten away with). And that is just the effort needed to keep the military from being pernicious from it's own country's point of view. To actually give it reliable combat performance without constant warfare is well nigh miraculous. It is no mystery why so many countries get clobbered whenever they take the field, it is a mystery that anyone succeeds.
  1. in the main timeline, at least