Like a play headed for Broadway, the government tested its biggest peacetime mobilization on the road. Authors of the Census 2000 dress rehearsals are boasting of success as critics say "wait and see."

"I am pleased to report that we have met or exceeded our expectations in each" of the three census test sites across the country, Acting Census Director James F. Holmes said at a briefing.The tests were conducted in Sacramento, Calif.; the Menominee Indian reservation in Wisconsin; and in Columbia, S.C., and 11 surrounding counties.

The next massive national head count, required every 10 years by the Constitution, is scheduled for April 1, 2000. The rehearsals give census takers a chance to test their methods and equipment and correct problems before undertaking the $4 billion effort.

"The dress rehearsals are going off without a hitch, and it's important to let the public know that," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. The rehearsals began April 18, and follow-up work continues.

Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla., remained skeptical, contending "it is simply too early to evaluate their quality."

"While the bureau says they completed the nonresponse follow-up phase on schedule and within cost estimations, the quality of the data they collected remains unknown," said Miller, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee.