► Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov for talks this morning in London in an attempt to ease tensions and prevent the crisis in Crimea from escalating. Officials aren't optimistic about delaying a referendum set for Sunday to decide if Crimea should join Russia. However, officials said they might be able to negotiate an alternative if Russia refrains from “formally annexing Crimea,” reports The New York Times. Kerry issued a warning yesterday saying that if the referendum is held, the United States and Europe are prepared to take serious actions against Russia, including strict sanctions. “This is a different situation we are in,” Lavrov said to The Times. “Many events have happened and a lot of time has been lost. So now we have to think what can be done.”
► The New York-area commuter train system Metro-North Railroad, which derailed in December of last year and killed four people, suffers from a “deficient safety culture,” reports Time, citing findings in a Federal Railroad Administration review. The review, known as Operation Deep Dive, will be released in full later today and shows that “Metro-North Railroad put getting to places on time ahead of ensuring rider and worker safety,” according to Time. The report also “faults operations controllers for telling workers to ‘rush when responding to signal failures’” along with other widespread problems, including cell phone use by on-duty track workers, inadequate track maintenance, and inadequate worker training.
► Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, expressed concerns yesterday about reductions in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) budget for terrorism detection, preparedness, and response at the local level. Thompson voiced his criticisms at a committee hearing where DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson answered questions about the department's budget for fiscal year 2015. Thompson said the budget was developed “in less than optimal conditions” as sequestration has limited DHS’s baseline funding and may also cause DHS’s operations to be limited. One main example Thompson cited was a $300 million reduction in assistance to state and local governments to enhance cyber capabilities and for university programs, which will go into effect unless a tax loophole and new institute fees are accepted.