President Joe Biden approved Friday a long-debated reform to the military justice system. It would allow military commanders to make decisions about prosecuting sexual assault cases.

However, Biden did not support a congressional effort that would strip commanders from oversight of major crimes.

More than two dozen recommendations from an independent review panel on sexual assault in military service were approved by the president. To remove conflicts of interest, the changes include the transfer of sexual assault cases prosecutions to special victims prosecutors.

The command structure system would also be rid of the military’s victims advocates and sexual assault response coordinators.

According to Defense Department reports in 2019, there has been a steady increase in reports of sexual assaults within the military since 2006. This includes a 13% jump for 2018 and a 33% increase for 2019.

Biden endorsed the recommendations by stating that he looks forward to working with Congress on these reforms and promoting a workplace free of harassment and sexual assault for all our brave service personnel.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has the support of 66 senators to a bill that would allow independent prosecutors to handle all felony cases that require more than one year in prison. Other key lawmakers and military service leaders have resisted including major crimes. It is feared that removing commanders’ control over all crimes could affect military readiness, undermine command authority, and take up more time and resources.

Biden applauded Gillibrand for his work on the matter. He asked that the commission focus on the problem of sexual assault and harassment within the military. This was stated by a senior official in the administration who spoke under anonymity and was not authorized to speak publicly.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said that Biden “looks forward” to working with Congress on the Gillibrand legislation. However she did not say if he would support the legislation.

Last month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin supported taking sexual assault and related offenses out of the chain command and allowing independent military lawyers to handle them.

Friday’s memo was sent to the Pentagon leadership by him directing them to immediately act on the recommendation of the commission, including adding sexual harassment as a military offense.

Austin supported the change even though military service chiefs and military service secretaries expressed concern about the sexual assault change in memos to Austin, as well as letters to Capitol Hill. They also expressed greater reservations about a more comprehensive overhaul of the military justice system.

Gillibrand has opposed limiting the possibility of sexual assault. He said it would be discriminatory. Some also suggested that a “pink court” could be set up to handle crimes usually involving female victims.

“I am deeply concerned that they limit it to sexual assault, it would really harm female service personnel. They will be marginalized, further undermined, and treated differently,” she told the AP.

After a string of crimes including murders, suicides, and sexual assaults at Fort Hood last year, the Army’s handling has been under scrutiny. A review panel concluded that the military commanders at Fort Hood were not adequately handling high levels of sexual assault and harassment, and they were neglecting the sexual violence prevention program.

The report states that these special victims need and deserve to have all crucial decisions regarding their case made by an independent special victim prosecutor. The report states that a commander’s position within a unit can create an inbuilt appearance of conflict of interest.

Biden stated during an International Women’s Day speech that his administration would make “an all-hands effort” to end the scourge sexual assault in military. He also stressed that reform was vital for the military’s health.

Biden stated that this would be one of the most important reforms to our military in recent history and that he was committed to delivering results.

In its report to Biden the commission included 28 and 54 recommendations, as well as 54 sub-recommendations. These include specific changes to increase accountability for leadership, climate, culture, victim care, and support.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said that Austin and Biden’s acceptance of the recommendations by the commission showed that the administration is treating this matter with the urgency it merits.

Smith stated, “As I’ve said, the scourge sexual assault in the military must end. After years of trying to solve the problem, it is now that the criminal prosecution for sexual assault crimes has been removed from the chain of command.”