It has been widely reported that Representative Tom Price, chair of the House Budget Committee, will put forward a budget resolution that comports with the caps on spending dictated by the Budget Control Act (BCA). This means that the Pentagon’s base budget will remain around $499 billion instead of the $534 billion the Obama administration requested. It remains unclear, however, what will happen with the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, which is exempt from the BCA spending caps. The Obama administration requested $50.9 billion for OCO for fiscal year 2016.

A close look at the administration’s OCO request, however, suggests that something fishy is going on. Most of the OCO dollars—$42.5 billion—are meant for operations in Afghanistan. Based on the Pentagon’s estimate that it will average 5,853 active-duty service members in Afghanistan in 2016—admittedly, a figure the administration is said to be revisiting—the per service member average works out to be around $7.2 million. As Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has shown, the average cost per service member in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2013 was $1.2 million. In FY2014, that figure increased to $2.3 million, and it was $4.6 million in the administration’s FY2015 budget request.

Pentagon officials claim that the increased cost per service member is due to the need to refurbish equipment and transport forces out of Afghanistan. But Harrison demonstrates that past war funding requests also included funds for those purposes. The increase in the cost per service member is most likely due to items shifted from the base budget to exempt the funds requested from both scrutiny and the BCA caps.

What, if anything, will Congress do about this?

Some in Congress, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, have expressed interest in transitioning away from OCO. But until that happens, Congress has shown few qualms about allowing the Pentagon to continue to use OCO as a slush fund. As former Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale noted in an interview with Jeremy Herb of Politico’s Pro Defense site, “Well, a dollar is a dollar, and OCO isn’t subject to the caps. So I think the problem will be political. There’s a gray area in OCO. … Therefore, there may be some potential for softening the blow, so to speak, through adding to OCO.”

But “softening the blow,” as Hale puts it, leads to multiple problems. Gordon Adams of American University and Cindy Williams of MIT have identified three problems with the routine use off-budget spending measures such as OCO. First, they generally receive less scrutiny than regular appropriations. Second, they “muddy projections of the federal government’s future fiscal picture” because money spent generally “does not enter into calculations of future deficits by OMB and CBO.” And third, the exemption of such measure from spending caps, such as those established by the Budget Control Act, makes it harder to lower the deficit.

Beyond those reasons, the use of OCO as a slush fund allows the Pentagon to continue avoiding tough decisions about spending. Defense officials are unlikely to make those decisions if Congress continues to let it off the hook. Allowing the administration to shift money to OCO that should be in the base budget does just that.