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Badass Bureaucrat
Some bureaucrats are a bother. Others are overworked. Still others are dishonest. 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.

When female, 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, except 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. Also see Pen-Pushing President.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime/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 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 her right hand man.
  • Descendants of Darkness gives us the Right-Hand Hottie to Chief Konoe, Seiichirou Tatsumi. Very handsome, very smart, and has the power to manipulate shadows.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam's sidestory The Plot To Assassinate Gihren has an evil example in Gihren's secretary, Cecilia Irene, who is also an example of the dark type of Obstructive Bureaucrat. A coldly efficent young woman who acts like The Baroness, she is feared/respected by the top brass, pushes Gihren's special projects through the red tape, and acts as his keeper of the keys, handling all the black operations that the rest of the General Staff doesn't want to think about.
  • Saiunkoku Monogatari's heroine wants to become a civil servant in an ancient China-esque country; the show focuses much with the internal workings of the State, and most main characters are Badass Bureaucrats of some sorts.

    Comic 

  • 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's eponymous series, using nothing but his encyclopedic knowledge of the law.

    Fan Fic 

  • Meowth in Symbiosis, who games Team Rocket's system for Jessie and James's sake.
  • The Infinite Loops makes Mayor Mare into one of these when she convinces the Vogons not to destroy Equestria.
  • In The Universiad, the Salary Men of the Office of Special Resources' Financial Management Directorate pursue financial crimes with superhuman diligence and persistence and have been known to stay on cases for decades to centuries in order to get their man.

    Film 

    Literature 

  • 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 snivelling incompetent is revealed to have elements of this trope.
  • Jorj X. Mc Kie and probably everyone at the Bureau of Sabotage in ConSentiency.
  • 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. After being inducted as a full copper, he puts his skills to use against white collar crime. The business community's greatest fear is being subjected to one of his audits.
    • 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 enabled him to stop taking 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... but as it turns out is very well-thought of because tough as he is, he's also the sole reason why the bank of Ankh-Morpork has worked at all, and he's been a tireless crusader for improving work conditions for the bankers. Plus, he took out assassins with long-forgotten, probably genetic clowning techniques!
  • Vinny Duto in John Wells series, Hero of Another Story. While his days in the field has passed now, he remains legendary in the CIA for his fearlessness. He has once shrugged off a two-month abduction by Colombian rebels with two week trips in Caribbean.
  • The Vogon Constant Mown from And Another Thing... seems well on his way to become this at the end of the book — in a race of Obstructive Bureaucrats he figures out how to use laws and loopholes in laws to help people while at the same time making it appear that he's being as ruthless as other Vogons. (He does have some luck on his side, when some of his genuinely concerned remarks are mistaken for and lauded as very sophisticated sarcasms.)
  • Rogue Squadron is an elite special forces unit in the X-Wing Series, whose members were recruited not only for their experience and expertise as starfighter pilots, but also for a wide range of additional skills that could come in handy during covert infiltration mission behind enemy lines. One of the most important members is Nawara Ven, who is a former lawyer and whose legal expertise is frequently used to trick imperial bureaucrats and occasionally exploit legal loopholes against their superiors.
  • While most Administratum drones are of theObstructiveBureaucrat variety (that oft-repeated quote about losing entire planets to rounding errors? Yeah, that's them), Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) meets a Badass Bureaucrat refugee during his trek through the deserts of Perlia. Not only does the guy survive months of desert warfare enduring countless ork attacks, he even plans out the column's rationing for food, fuel and water, without which they'd all have died in the desert.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Star Beast we have his Excellency the Right Honorable Henry Gladston Kiku, M.A. (Oxon.) Litt. D. honoris causa (Capetown), O.B.E., Permanent Undersecretary for Spatial Affairs. Mr. Kiku can read at over 2,000 words per minute, useful since he needed to go through a dozen memos and other documents per working hour, making the occasional notation and referral to subordinate for action. Most were for information but he needed to be kept informed. During the climactic confrontation with the Hroshii on the tarmac of a spaceship landing field and with the threat that they could destroy the Earth with their one ship, he stood there and cursed mildly when the wind nearly blew his hat off.
  • Quite possibly a fixture of the budding Barrayaran bureaucracy. In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance we get this lovely exchange:
    Tej: "And you said you were just a desk pilot."
    Ivan: "But it's a Barrayaran desk."
    • To clarify they aren't talking about someone who is badass at being a Bureaucrat, their describing someone who is a bureaucrat and also badass. Considering Barrayar's reputation it's safe to assume that anyone in the military is badass no matter what their role.

     Live Action TV  

  • Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones.
  • 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 Mash.
    • 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.
  • 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 MI6.
  • Donna from Doctor Who is a variation: although she never made it past temp note , she can pretty much single-handedly run an office, work out complex calender 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.
  • Pretty much the entire main cast on The West Wing. They're always cutting deals, manipulating other departments and offices, and getting none of the glory outside of the office.
  • James Lester in Primeval. His main concerns are typically bureaucratic in nature. But it's quickly revealed that he cares much more than he'd like to admit. When someone points this out, he coldly threatens to sue them for libel. In the latest season, when the wealthy industrialist financing the ARC is demanding that all the prehistoric creatures be put down (after one nearly causes his death), Lester threatens to leak information about this to the press, even though he himself has often complained about the animals (except for the mammoth, which saved his life earlier).
  • Richard Woolsey in Stargate Verse. He starts off as an Obstructive Bureaucrat, but through character development becomes this when he is put in charge of the Atlantis Expedition.
  • Vir Cotto in Babylon 5 uses recordkeeping to aid his smuggling of Narns to other worlds, by declaring them dead via a fake Centauri noble so that they would not be missed. He helps thousands of Narns in this way.
  • Melinda May in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. When Coulson recruits her, she's working a desk job she willingly chose to avoid going through the unspecified trauma she suffered in the field earlier.
  • Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister epitomizes this trope. He basically runs the Department of Administrative Affairs and has a huge influence on the British Government whether working for his Minister or out-gambiting him as an adversary. He eventually rises to Cabinet Secretary where he is the bulk of the power behind the Hacker regime, including getting Hacker promoted to PM in the first place. All while being a "humble functionary". Sir Arnold, prior to retirement, also fit this.

    Music 
  • 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."

    Pinball 
  • In Data East's Time Machine, one of the representatives of The Eighties is a woman executive wearing a pin-striped suit and no-nonsense glasses, unfazed as she travels through time.

     Tabletop Games  
  • The few notable Vilani commanders in the Intersteller 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 Bureau 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 commitees 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.
    • 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.
  • The Seneschal player class in the Warhammer 40k RPG Rogue Trader is characterized in this way. A typical seneschal is a financier, quartermaster, and/or business manager to one of the eponymous Rogue Traders and is an expert in matters of commerce, intelligence — oh, yes, and personal combat as need be. Like all Rogue Trader characters, they are expected to hold down both shipboard posts and participate in highly dangerous adventures.

    Video Games 
  • In earlier versions of Dwarf Fortress, raising any skill would increase all your stats, regardless of the skill; raising it to godlike levels would make you godlike. And the Bookkeeping skill was incredibly easy to raise by assigning a dwarf as your bookkeeper. As a result, Dwarf Fortress bookkeepers would rapidly become practically demigods.
  • Mass Effect 3
    • You can intercept this transcript from a human colony world about to be overrun by the Reapers:
      Secretary Phillips: The emergency fund's gone, sir. We don't have the credits to hire enough ships to evacuate the colony before the Reapers get here. Not with the prices their captains are asking for.
      Councilor Gujir: What about the military?
      Phillips: The left an hour ago. They said... they said it's too much of a risk to come back.
      Gujir: Did they.
      Phillips: Yes, sir.
      Gujir: Here.
      Phillips: This... is this a passkey, sir? And an inventory?
      Gujir: Phillips, I am authorizing you on behalf of this city's Senate to seize any and all eezo stockpiles in our treasury, in order to secure safe passage for our citizens on any available ships.
      Phillips: These look like private stockpiles. Senate members' stockpiles.
      Gujir: I'm forgoing re-election. Now get us those ships.
      Phillips: Yes, sir!
    • Also during 3, there are a few oblique references that Shepard, despite being a hero shouldering the burden of an entire galaxy at war, is still careful to always fill out his/her paperwork properly.
      Brooks: I'm going to have to write a report about getting shot. I hear those are really complicated.
      Shepard: It's faster if you make a template.
      Brooks: I think maybe you get shot too much.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, you can find Ranger Jackson, a mustached ranger who serve as the commander of the Mojave Outpost. He is described by Cass as washed up old fuck-up and a Brotherhood Scribe because he loves paperwork, and doing things exactly like the law says. But if you accomplish some good work for him, he may have lost some supplies that ended in your pocket. And if you find evidence of the Van Graff's and Crimson Caravan's corruption and murdering work... Tthe NCR bureaucracy is described in the game as obstinate, but you don't want to have it against you. Jackson will assure you the Van Graff and the Crimson's leader will be in deep trouble, and Cass even say it is a fate worse than death...
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has Senator Steven Armstrong, who is not only the true mastermind behind the plot, but is also capable of physically overpowering Raiden with his bare hands due to nanomachines that grant him Nigh-Invulnerability and Super Strength. At first, Raiden stands no chance against him. It's only after Raiden obtains Sam's High Frequency Blade that he is able to do any significant damage to Armstrong.
  • The checkpoint the player mans in Papers, Please is regularly attacked by terrorists. Eventually, funding is cut so much that they no longer employ soldiers to protect you, meaning you have to resolve such situations with a sniper rifle.
    • The player can choose to aid a shadowy revolutionary group. While this requires less shooting and making more "mistakes", the player and their entire family are under the watchful eye of the Arstotzkan government and could be killed or detained for the slightest infraction.

    Webcomics 
  • 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.
  • 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 brief 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.
    • He also at one point managed to clear the Central Bureaucracy's entire backlog in 3 minutes 58 seconds. While performing a musical number.
  • Tarrlok, a Sleazy Politician from The Legend of Korra, at first seems to be your average Desk Jockey, but quickly displays his prowess as a martial organizer (What else do you call a politician who participates in police raids?) and is a competent waterbender.
  • In SWAT Kats, Callie Briggs is officially the Deputy Mayor of Megakat City, but as the Hypercompetent Sidekick to lazy, incompetent Mayor Manx she's the one who does most of the work. She can also handle herself in a fight, becomng an Improvised Weapon User to defend herself when necessary.

     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. What's even more badass is that the baby wasn't breathing when he caught it, so he gave it CPR. If that's not badass, nothing is.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower. Stuck in a training post for World War One, 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.
    • Probably Eisenhower's most important skill was the recognizing that his post was primarily a political one. He knew he was never going to be recognized as a battlefield leader or expert strategist or tactician, and didn't think of himself as one. His job was to ride herd on his international team of subordinates who had such an assortment of personal quirks, raging egos, and nationalistic points of view that they'd be disastrous in command of a multinational military force.
  • 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.
  • 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 dozens 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.
    • John Rabe, on the other side of the world, was a diabetic Siemens employee who managed to get a section of Nanjing turned into a safe zone for Chinese civilians during the Japanese occupation with no authority, no government backing, and no military force.
    • Sugihara was a vice-consul, which means in the (highly stratified) Japanese diplomacy he did not have the authority to decide on visas. He gave them out in direct violation of his orders from Tokyo, during the time when powerful Japanese generals had to step carefully to avoid disgrace, execution or assassination. This is an even more Badass act.
  • 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. You might be able to bribe the right elements of law enforcement to stay free, but God help you if the IRS comes after you...
  • J. Edgar Hoover singlehandedly built the FBI, arguably one of the largest and most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world. Not only that, but as director of the FBI, Hoover was effectively the most powerful person in the US, outlasting 5 presidents and largely being untouchable, due to him having dirt on everybody. Nobody dared try to remove him from office and he only gave up the position due to his death from a heart attack.
  • Staff officers in an army have throughout history had the job of working out all the little details that turn a general's grand plan into actuality, from ordering the right quantities of ammunition, rations, etc. to mapping out the paths that the soldiers will take to their deployment and jump-off points, how many carriages in how many trains are needed, organising transfer and care of the wounded and dead, and making sure that infantry (and cavalry in a bygone age), artillery, and (where applicable) tanks and aircraft all work together smoothly. Etcetera. They are the ultimate detail-obsessed pen pushers. They are also all trained professional soldiers.
  • When WWII broke out, the British Parliament decided to form a national unity government, uniting left and right, Labour and Conservative, in a single executive dedicated to fighting the war effort. At the head, in the office of Prime Minister and providing the face and the quotes, was the irrepressible Winston Churchill, leader of the Conservatives. The body, however, was definitely Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party. Where Churchill was flighty, Attlee was steady. Where Churchill was emotional, Attlee had a vulcan-like analytic mind. Where Churchill was charismatic, Attlee was grey and dull. And yet his organizational skills, essentially centralizing and creating a vast, unified, war machine out of Britain's sprawling Imperial bureacracy, was just as important a contribution to Britain's victory as Churchill's speeches in the Commons.
  • US President Herbert Hoover tends to be remembered, if at all, by Americans as being the guy under whose watch the Great Depression started, and he tends to be regarded unfavorably because of that (despite the fact that it wasn't his fault, and he did probably all he could legally and in good conscience do to cut it short). What's forgotten is that he donated nearly all of his salary as President to charity (the first of two Presidents so far to do so) and headed the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the US Food Administration during World War I and the American Relief Administration after it, all of which provided literally millions of tons of food and supplies to war-stricken countries in Europe.


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