mission creep
n. The process by which a mission's methods and goals change gradually over time.
Last fall, Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile slashed the vice president's bloated campaign operation, banning meals delivered to holding rooms, cutting back staff on trips, shoving traveling staff into one small minivan and ordering people to double up in hotel rooms. She also cut the number of expensive helicopter flights from the vice president's house to Andrews Air Force Base as well as the staffers who could go on them.

Some of the changes have remained in place. But it looks like there's been a bit of what the military would call "mission creep" when it comes to the chopper, which often ferries Gore and staffers such as political aide Michael Feldman, trip director David Morehouse and spokesman Chris Lehane over all that bothersome traffic down below.
—“In Concert,” The Washington Post, April 19, 2000
As it is, the whole process has been subjected to "mission creep", with attempts to write in clauses that have more to do with consumer protection and social engineering than with hard-core ecological science.
—“The Biosafety Protocol,” The Economist, January 29, 2000
1993 (earliest)
Operation Restore Hope, the U.S.-led military mission to halt clan warfare and get aid to the needy, has unofficially widened its role to include such tasks as rebuilding houses, digging wells and creating police forces.

Officials call it "mission creep."
—Christopher Burns, “Coalition Armies Widen Role in 'Mission Creep',” The Associated Press, February 12, 1993
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