The effort to ensure increased recruitment and retention of Latino federal employees has largely stalled since the Clinton administration, and leaders of Latino federal workers said Tuesday that President Donald Trump should revive and fund the effort through executive order.

President Bill Clinton signed executive order 13171 in 2000 that sought to influence federal agency directors to use their discretionary funding to make Hispanic employment a priority.

However, the law largely remains an unfunded mandate with which agency heads can choose whether to comply, and it needs to be more than that, Hector E. Sanchez, executive director of the National Council for Latin American Advancement, said at a meeting of the Hispanic Council of Federal Employment.

“This is one of the only defenses we have right now,” Sanchez said. “A lot of our democratic values are under attack with this administration.”

Nevertheless, the council decided to send a letter to the Trump administration to try to persuade the president to write an executive order to update Clinton’s order.

Federal hiring of Latinos has only increased incrementally since Clinton’s order 17 years ago, said Brent Wilkes, chief executive officer of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Currently about 8.5 percent of the federal workforce is Hispanic.

Wilkes said that ultimately a law is needed to get a significant boost in Hispanic hiring, but a Trump executive order would send agency directors a message that the president considers the issue to be a priority.

The Office of Personnel Management, whose task it is to enforce equal opportunity employment, paints a somewhat more positive picture. In its 2016 report, OPM states that “the total number of Hispanics on-board in the permanent federal workforce increased from 159,545 in FY 2014 to 163,257 in FY 2015, representing an increase from 8.4 percent to 8.5 percent.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Hispanic population is growing at a rate that is roughly three times the federal government hiring rate.

David Ortiz, of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said hiring more Hispanics would not only bring agencies more in line with the country’s population, it would have tangible benefits for the government.

For instance, if the Department of Health and Human Services had more Hispanic employees, it could increase its “cultural competency” in outreach efforts, Ortiz said, and reduce spending on health care. Studies show that cultural outreach contributes to a greater community awareness of preventive care measures.