Flouting Norms, Trump Seeks to Bring Independent Watchdogs to Heel

WASHINGTON — Congress had a clear idea of the role it expected inspectors general to play when it created them in 1978 after the Watergate scandals. They were to be dispersed in the agencies and departments of the federal government not as compliant team members but in-house referees, charged with rooting out corruption, waste, malfeasance and illegality.

As their numbers increased in the four decades since, inspectors general have played that role in bureaucracies as vast as the Pentagon and as tiny as the Denali Commission, charged with developing infrastructure in Alaska. It was an inspector general who in 2003 discovered that the C.I.A. was using unauthorized techniques to torture detainees and an inspector general who brought to light billions of dollars wasted in reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.

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