Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies before a House subcommittee Wednesday to discuss her department's fiscal 2013 budget proposal. (Edwin Rios/Medill)

WASHINGTON — There is a growing need for improved relations between the federal government and private companies to protect the nation’s cyber networks, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a House committee Wednesday.

Napolitano called for more collaboration to improve the protection of the nation’s cyber infrastructure. She said the current relationship with the private sector consisted of working together only when necessary.

The Department of Homeland Security budget request, part of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget plan, provides for $39.5 billion for Homeland Security – a drop of 0.5 percent from this year. It also calls for a separate $5.5 billion outlay for disaster relief funding.

The budget emphasizes investments in programs to prevent terrorist attacks and to improve border security, aviation security, disaster preparedness — and cyber security.

The budget, released Monday, provided a $769 million investment plan that would upgrade government computer systems and protect the nation’s information networks from cyberattacks.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said the current EINSTEIN 2 detection system is imperfect, as adversaries may still “find ways around” federal networks.

Napolitano called the state of cybersecurity “an area of constant creativity by adversaries.” She emphasized the cyber security investments to expedite the deployment of EINSTEIN 3, an upgraded system that monitors federal network threats and detects intrusions, as a way to combat potential cyber attacks.

The budget would double the amount of money Napolitano requested in 2011 – $459 billion – for her agency’s National Cyber Security Division, whose job is to protect federal networks and coordinate with the private sector on safeguarding infrastructure systems.

Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, chairman of the homeland security subcommittee, expressed concern with the department’s budgetary “discipline” and said there needs to be a balance between the department’s call for urgency and the resources on hand.

“There are no more shortcuts out of our budget’s red ink,” Aderholt said. “Homeland security cannot be immune from fiscal restraint.”

Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee, zeroed in on Napolitano’s decision to reduce the size of Coast Guard personnel and to restructure the current Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant program.

Napolitano told the committee her department would consolidate the multiple grant programs in an effort to deploy aid to disaster-stricken areas faster.

But Rogers said he had strong concerns about a budget that “proposes to add layers to the already muddled bureaucracy at [DHS] headquarters.”

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said in a statement that he was pleased to see the proposed increases for FEMA and for science and technology. And Price lauded the department’s effectiveness in dealing with major disasters.

He emphasized, however, the need to enforce immigration laws, which he said were in “dire need of comprehensive reform” because of Congress’s inaction. He said he was concerned with the proposed cuts to Coast Guard personnel — a number that, Napolitano said, could reach a net reduction of as many as 2,000 people.

Toward the end of a heated exchange between Napolitano and Rogers, he warned her: “Be prepared [to be challenged by Congress].”