The origins of the Economic Planning Agency go back to the Economic Stabilisation Board (ESB, Keizai antei honbu), set up under the Occupation in August 1946 and abolished in July 1952. The ESB was succeeded by the Economic Deliberation Agency (Keizai shingichō), which changed its name to Economic Planning Agency in July 1955. It was an external agency of the PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE, with a Minister of State as its Director.
With the establishment of the ENVIRONMENT AGENCY in 1971, the EPA lost most of its environmental policy functions, and, after the NATIONAL LAND AGENCY was set up in 1974, it lost certain functions concerning land planning and regional development. This enabled it to concentrate on its core functions of detailed investigation of economic indicators, preparing economic forecasts, publishing a variety of 'white papers' on the international economy, national economy, costs and standard of living, etc., as well as seeking to co-ordinate policy between major ministries. It developed a model of the Japanese and international economy, as a tool for economic forecasting.
The EPA has been widely regarded as an important part of the Government structure, with exceptionally high-quality personnel. Its importance may be gauged by the fact that its Director has often been a top-ranking Cabinet minister. At the same time, it would be incorrect to regard it as wholly independent of the main economic ministries. In the past, the MINISTRY OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND INDUSTRY (Tsūsanshō), and to a lesser extent the MINISTRY OF FINANCE (Okurashō), have played an important role in appointments at the EPA. Moreover, its role in the formation of economic policy has been controversial. The idea that EPA economic plans are meant to be implemented in detail by Government has long been discredited, and is based on a misunderstanding about the character of the Japanese economy. Rather, in the words of Chalmers Johnson, 'EPA's forecasts and indicative plans are read not so much for their accuracy or econometric sophistication as for official statements of what industries the government is prepared to finance or guarantee for the immediate future' (Johnson, 1982, p. 76). Taking this into account, it is evident that the relative lack of independence of the EPA from the major ministries may have actually enhanced its credibility.
In any case the notion of the Japanese economy as expertly dirigiste belongs largely to the past, and this is perhaps reflected in what happened to the EPA in the administrative reorganisation of January 2001. Together with the Prime Minister's Office and the OKINAWA DEVELOPMENT AGENCY, it Was merged into the CABINET OFFICE (Naikakufu). This suggests that its expertise has come to be tapped by a Prime Minister and Cabinet seeking to impose their will on powerful and recalcitrant ministries intent on protecting their privileged clienteles.